Based on recent Republican presidential debates, here's how I handicap the race.
In third place, but rising, is Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann. Ahead of Bachmann, but falling fast, is Texas Governor Rick Perry. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is tenuously holding on to first place. Although the conventional wisdom is that Perry or Romney will ultimately prevail at the convention, I like the long shot Bachmann.
With the understanding that there are months to go and millions of political miles yet to travel, if Bachmann plays her cards right she could capture the nomination. Bachmann caught a break when longtime GOP advisor Ed Rollins resigned as her campaign manager. The last thing Bachmann needs is a Nixon-Reagan era strategy rehashed by a political operative like Rollins.
My advice to Bachmann: Don't replace Rollins. Go with your gut. So far, you've been well served by your instincts.
Here's the rest of my counsel to Bachmann.
1) Keep taking it to your opponents. In the recent Florida debate you forcefully let Perry know that the DREAM Act, which he signed into law in Texas, does not as he suggested reflect the American way. Americans overwhelmingly oppose the DREAM Act. That's why it's been defeated for more than a decade by Republican and Democratic Congresses. No wonder the Florida audience booed the audacious Perry.
2) Press the relationship between 1 million legal immigrants and U.S. joblessness. Each of those immigrants holds a work permit and automatically becomes a job candidate even though over 14 million Americans are unemployed.
Illegal immigration is also a sore point with American voters. Eight million illegal aliens are in the workforce (5.1 percent). Don't be dissuaded by talking heads like Rush Limbaugh or the Hispanic ethnic identity lobby that will try to persuade you that illegal immigration is a losing issue. They're wrong; it's a winner. When unemployment is 9.1 percent, not a single alien should have a job.
3) Expand on your effective South Carolina ads that emphasize your support for E-Verify, the online government program that assures that every worker is legally authorized to hold a job. Perry opposes E-Verify for reasons he can't defend. Every time he tries to explain himself, he loses ground.
4) Take advantage of your accounting background. Most Americans are righteously angry about the double tax standard where the rich pay little while the middle class pays plenty. Here's something Americans don't know that will make them even angrier. A recent U.S. Department of the Treasury audit found that (a) the IRS paid illegal aliens $4.2 billion in additional child tax credits and (b) the IRS protects illegal aliens who use American citizens' social security numbers. The IRS' actions serve as an incentive for illegal aliens to enter, reside and work in the United States.
5) Mobilize your base. One of the main reasons Obama won in 2008 was because he secured votes from his natural allies: blacks and other minorities, the Democratic left and the idealistic young. Your core constituency is moderates from both parties, regardless of race or ethnicity. If you can appeal to a broad spectrum of women voters, much as Obama did with blacks, they could put you over the top.
6) Ignore the media that will marginalize you at every opportunity.
Bachmann has a chance to make history as the first woman presidential nominee. But to overcome the many challenges she'll face, Bachmann will need a combination of skill and good luck.
Joe Guzzardi is a syndicated columnist and Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org