Leading article: Underwhelming in Iowa

What could be worse than the further reaches of the congressional Republican Party bringing the United States to within hours of default? Answer (for now): the prospect of the arch-conservative Republican representative from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, winning her party's nomination to run for president. Worse even than Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and running mate in 2008 of the defeated John McCain? Quite probably – because she comes across as a more competent politician. She cannot be dismissed so easily as a Tea Party movement "flake".

This is why Ms Bachmann's victory in this weekend's Iowa straw poll is sounding alarms on both sides of the Atlantic. The consolation is that is far too soon to panic. This straw poll may be the first set-piece event of the US presidential election season, but it comes so early that its usefulness is more in weeding out the truly hopeless than in speeding any one candidate ahead. Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, duly bowed out yesterday.

Another reason not to panic is that Ms Bachmann won by an unexpectedly narrow margin. For her, a native Iowan, who had campaigned hard as the hometown-girl-made-good, this was a disappointment. Not only was she almost pipped to the post by the decidedly non-Tea Party candidate, Ron Paul, but – as often with the Iowa straw poll – the favourites stayed away. And although absent, the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, came a creditable fifth, while the show was stolen by the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who had announced his candidacy earlier that day.

All of which goes to show that if Ms Bachmann is to win the nomination, she has her work cut out – and this might include trimming politically towards the centre to win over fellow-Republicans, even before she tries to court American voters at large.