Tea for Two: Partiers Bask in the Glow of Palin and Bachmann

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Rep. Michele Bachmann grabbed the microphone and electrified a crowd of Tea Party loyalists in her home state of Minnesota on Thursday, her words -- as well as a few other characteristics -- bore striking similarities to another galvanizing force within the movement: Sarah Palin.

Palin and Bachmann have emerged as leading figures within the Tea Party movement. In fact, many loyalists say they see the two as one and the same.

"They both have an anti-establishment, populist orientation," said Sal Russo, chief architect of the Tea Party Express, which has endorsed Bachmann in her re-election bid. "They're pretty much on the same page."

"They're both moms so there's a lot of similarities," said Annette Bystrom, who traveled from Ellsworth, Wis., to hear Bachmann speak. "They both stand for God, the truth and their families.

"I'd have to sit down with them to really know the differences," Bystrom added.

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Bachmann, who is seeking a third term in the House, formally aligned herself with Palin on Wednesday when the two Republicans joined forces at a Tea Party rally in Minneapolis targeting President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

But while both are heroes of the Tea Party movement, don't let the similarities fool you.

Both women are "proud conservative leaders" who "break Republican female stereotypes," said Bachmann's campaign manager, Gina Countryman. But Bachmann is an active legislator bound by certain House protocols. Palin, who resigned as governor of Alaska last year, is not.

Palin gained instant stardom when John McCain plucked her out of the governor's mansion to be his vice presidential running mate in 2008. Bachmann's gains in the world of politics, by contrast, have been steady and gradual.

"Sarah had a meteoric rise," said Tea Party Express member James Lyle, whereas Bachmann's ascent to power "seems more like grassroots growth," he said.

Palin was to speak Friday before the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, where many say she is building momentum for a possible 2012 presidential bid of her own.

Asked about a possible Palin-Bachmann ticket on Wednesday, the former governor told Fox News "that sounds kind of cool." But Bachmann did not offer an endorsement.

"I want to thank Governor Palin for breaking the barrier by being a woman as a vice president on the ticket. She did a wonderful job, I think, as the vice presidential candidate. And I think the world is her oyster. If she wants to run, I think that she has tremendous support from the American people," Bachmann said.

Bachmann has avoided making specific comparisons between Palin and herself.

"I think we're both unique individuals and I'm grateful for her gifts and talents and how she's using those in our country," Bachmann said in an interview with FoxNews.com. "She's trying to be influential in her realm and I am as well in my realm.

"I don't try to fill her shoes," she said.

Still, the comparisons -- physical, spiritual, intellectual or otherwise -- are sometimes uncanny.

Palin has portrayed herself as a non-career politician, a "hockey-mom" whose "common sense conservative" principles make her well-suited to lead the country.

Bachmann's self-characterization closely mirrors Palin's.

"I am the chief coupon-clipper at our house," she told a cheering crowd of 200 conservative activists outside the Minnesota state capitol. "Whoever balances the checkbook knows we gotta bring in at least a little bit more than what you put out."

Bachmann went on to say that she and her husband, parents of five biological children (the same number as the Palins) as well as 23 foster children, "always bought used cars" and "clothes in consignment stores."

"We've lived like all of you live because we balance the checkbook," she boomed.

Palin, a Fox News contributor, addressed the comparisons between her and Bachmann on Wednesday.

"Michele and I both, we have strong faith that we, fighting as hard as we can for our country and supporting those who share our values, share our principles and, at the same time, putting our lives in God's hands and asking him for direction," she said.

Some observers say the two women, who appeared together on stage accompanied by Martina McBride's "This One's for the Girls," are so alike they could be confused for one another. In a side-by-side photo lineup, seven out of a random sampling of 20 Tea Party-goers at one Minnesota rally had trouble telling who was who.

"They could be sisters," said one Tea Party member clad in a "Palin for President" t-shirt at a rally in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday.

"They're both Christian, conservative, attractive, intelligent and feisty," said Jim Erlemeier of Duluth.

To the delight of their fans and the consternation of their critics, Bachmann and Palin also share campaign styles, especially when it comes to attacking the opposition. Bachmann asked whether Barack Obama's views were "un-American" during the 2008 presidential campaign -- a statement she later retracted -- and has called his health care overhaul the "crown jewel of socialism."

Palin similarly seized on Obama's past association with controversial figures like Bill Ayers, seeking to cast doubt on his patriotism by claiming he was "palling around with terrorists." She also has suggested that several of the Obama administration's policies are socialist.

But Republicans and Tea Party activists aren't the only ones who relish the similarities between the two women. Democrats and liberal groups do, too, characterizing Bachmann as a mere clone of Palin, whom they depict as a polarizing figure.

"Bachmann has echoed Palin's sentiments," said Julie Cox of Minneapolis, a recruitment worker for Moveon.org who attended a protest outside a Palin-Bachmann fundraiser on Wednesday.

Bachmann "beat the drum" on Palin's widely debunked "death panel" statements over the Democrats' health care agenda, added David Callahay, also with Moveon.org.

But asked about the efforts to cast her and Bachmann as wacky, out-of-touch, far right-wingers, Palin said bring it on.

"It just makes us work harder. It makes us, I think, produce -- more, produce better, help us articulate our positions even clearer. And that's fine. We're up to the challenge ...

"If it's open season on us, we're not going to shy way from the message that we have that we need a smaller, smarter government back on the side of the people. And we're going to certainly not retreat. We're going to reload and we're going to keep standing up for what we believe is right," Palin said.