Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are veteran politicians with strong conservative views that attract Republican activists, especially tea party types. Both are good communicators but prone to controversial statements, including some rewriting of American history.
This week, both visited Iowa, further spurring speculation they may yet become GOP presidential rivals.
But their contrasting events -- Bachmann formally announcing her candidacy in her childhood home of Waterloo and Palin reiterating that she might run at the Pella premiere of a friendly biopic -- underscored differences in how they have pursued their growing political celebrity.
They explain why the Minnesota congresswoman is emerging as a serious contender while party leaders and voters increasingly dismiss the former Alaska governor.
Palin's appearance was another high-profile event featuring her celebrity that does little for a presidential candidacy. Though she frequently comments on issues, her hard anti-Obama stance shows little depth or nuance.
Top Republicans increasingly question her seriousness. Analyst Rich Galen called her "a great personality" but neither "a good governor of Alaska" nor "a good candidate for vice president." Karl Rove said she lacked presidential "gravitas."
Polls indicate Palin's appeal has steadily declined. A recent CBS News survey showed more than half of Republicans don't want her to run.
Bachmann, meanwhile, is the summer's rising GOP star, parlaying enthusiasm among tea party activists and a strong performance in the recent New Hampshire debate into second place in subsequent national and Iowa polls.
Unlike Palin, she has moved methodically and traditionally, hiring veteran GOP operatives Ed Rollins and Ed Goeas to run her campaign and hone her message. She avoids Palin's penchant for trashing the media.
On Sunday, she gave a succinct defense of her qualifications to what she correctly said was an "insulting" question when Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace asked if she was "a flake."
"I'm a serious person," she replied, citing her tax law doctorate and multilayered career that includes starting a charter school, running a tax preparation business and serving a dozen years in elective office.
She gave a nuanced response when asked about New York's gay marriage law, supporting the state's 10th Amendment right to act but favoring a constitutional amendment to override it.
Unlike rivals Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, Bachmann has not reversed some positions to accommodate the predominantly conservative GOP electorate.
But she suffers from making misleading, sometimes hyperbolic, statements on subjects from political issues to American history, and analysts generally believe she is too far right to win.
She falsely stated America's founding fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery and mistakenly told a New Hampshire audience, "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord." (That was Massachusetts.) On Monday, she said John Wayne came from Waterloo, confusing the iconic actor with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
More substantively, she has misleadingly contended the Congressional Budget Office said Obama's health care initiative "will kill 800,000 jobs," and said Obama "may have anti-American views," tempering that to say he "has been wrong in his policy prescriptions."
Nevertheless, Bachmann's strong Des Moines Register poll showing indicates she will be a top contender in Iowa's Aug. 13 straw poll and next winter's caucuses.
But that could hinge on whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential tea party rival with a superior record of accomplishment, or Palin get in. Perry's advisers are studying whether he can raise enough money and build an organization for the long run, also crucial considerations for Bachmann.
In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee lacked the resources to sustain momentum from winning Iowa. That could be important again, given Romney's wealth and fund-raising capacity.
Still, Bachmann is off to a good start in trying to become the tea party alternative to Romney that many thought Palin would be.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.