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Bachmann presidential bid hits the buffers with John Wayne 'killer' gaffe

  • @guyadams

After an irresistible rise, Michele Bachmann appears to be experiencing a collision with political reality after the opening 48 hours of her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination were overshadowed by a minor gaffe, a potentially major scandal and a small, but worrisome, dip in her popularity.

Ms Bachman, a social, fiscal, and religious conservative from Minnesota who owes her prominence to the Tea Party movement, arrived in the early primary state of South Carolina yesterday with a straightforward task: to convince voters that she is "a serious person and a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States".

She had intended to spend the day outlining a robust political vision. But headlines were instead at least partly dominated by an incident in which she had unwittingly compared herself to a notorious serial killer.

The slip of the tongue occurred in Iowa on Monday, at the aptly named town of Waterloo, where she had held her official launch. In a TV interview afterwards, she said: "John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too."

Fans of Wayne were quick to point out that the screen cowboy was born and brought up in a place called Winterset, 150 miles away. Waterloo's most famous son is, in fact, John Wayne Gacy. He is better known as the so-called "killer clown", who raped and murdered at least 33 teenage boys during the 1970s.

Bachmann's first reaction to the discovery was to deny any error, arguing that the parents of John Wayne (the actor) once lived in Waterloo. But amid growing ridicule, she later confessed to having "mis-spoken".

It was a damaging admission for Ms Bachmann since, despite her popularity among right-leaning Americans who attend Tea Party rallies in tricorn hats, she boasts an unfortunate habit of "mis-speaking" with regard to the nation's history. In one speech last year, she claimed the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in New Hampshire (it was Massachusetts); in another, she wrongly suggested that the nation's founding fathers abolished slavery.

That brand of rhetorical excess extends to her day-to-day politics. During a TV appearance at the weekend, Bachmann was informed that the Pulitzer prize-winning website PolitiFact had analysed 23 of her recent statements about Barack Obama and found just one to be "completely true". Seven were outright falsehoods.

Bachmann has also yet to address a report in the Los Angeles Times this weekend claiming that despite her principled endorsement of small government, her family's farm in rural Wisconsin received $280,000 in government subsidy between 1995 and 2008. Although she publicly claims that "not a penny" went to her, financial disclosure forms obtained by the newspaper appear to show that she was paid dividends of between $32,500 and $105,000, between 2006 and 2009.

Palin back in the spotlight

The Sarah Palin show got back on the road last night as the former governor of Alaska and her entourage breezed into the crucial early voting state of Iowa for the premiere of a much-hyped documentary which takes a flattering look at her political life and times.

In a move which seems designed to fuel speculation about her presidential ambitions, Palin travelled to the 111-year-old opera house in Pella for the first public screening of The Undefeated, which chronicles her rise to prominence and enduring ability to inspire the Republican mainstream.

Roads were closed and car parks filled with satellite vans for the occasion, which was followed by a barbecue. Police expected it to bring the streets of Pella, a town of 10,000 residents with no less than 36 churches, to a virtual standstill. Organisers prevented the media from attending the screening, meaning critics have yet to get a proper look at the documentary, which is rumoured to liken Palin to Joan of Arc. Instead, most of the 340 tickets went to locals.

"I didn't invite all my right-wing Hollywood friends," director Steve Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter. "Jon Voight, Dennis Miller, I'll have a screening for those guys later. I'd actually like them to buy a ticket, but they're so tight... And you can quote me on that."

If Ms Palin were to announce a tilt at the White House, she would enter an already crowded race. As well as fellow Tea Party-favourite Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have all declared.