House Members typically fall short in the presidential nomination process, and it's unclear whether Bachmann can attract support beyond Iowa. Sorenson claims she can, asserting that the Congresswoman is the only candidate solid on constitutional, fiscal and social issues and capable of drawing votes from all wings of the Republican Party. Other Republicans closely following the race, including GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.), suggested that Bachmann still has much to prove.
Ayotte said Bachmann performed well in the debate. But the freshman Senator, who won a contested primary of her own just last year, said it is "too early to tell" whether Bachmann will catch on with New Hampshire voters. Independents can vote in the Granite State primary, but Ayotte told reporters her advice to Bachmann would be to focus on registered Republicans.
"Obviously the excitement's going to be on the Republican end, so if an independent's going to pick up a ballot, they're going to pick it up in the Republican primary, so that's going to help get independents into the primary," Ayotte said. "But you still have to focus, in the primary in New Hampshire, on the registered Republicans. Having just come through a contested primary myself, where obviously we hoped that independents would still come out and vote for me, our strategy was still on the registered Republicans that you know are going to be the stalwart voters."
DeMint added that Bachmann can be competitive in South Carolina, which is dominated by social conservatives and national-security-minded Republicans. DeMint said he did not watch the debate.
"She's an impressive person; she's well-read," said DeMint, who is influential among some tea party conservatives. "She's a full-spectrum conservative. She's right in the right place on social issues, economic issues, defense issues. So, I think she's gong to be in the game."
Republican strategists are split on what Bachmann's strong first debate portends for her campaign.
One GOP operative, who worked for a 2008 candidate but is currently unaffiliated, said Bachmann performed well and that her personal charisma and strong appeal with conservative voters was on display. But this individual said her success and formal entrance into the race brings with it a scrutiny that could "magnify" her inexperience on the presidential stage and any mistakes she might make.
A second Republican operative said Bachmann's high marks are simply the result of incredibly low expectations for a politician known in Washington, D.C., as undisciplined and erratic. Bachmann is well-known on Capitol Hill for having trouble holding on to senior staff, although supporters say critics and the media have overblown those problems.
"Some pundits are saying she exceeded expectations. Well, they were pretty low," the operative said. "She is nothing more than Sarah Palin. The veneer will wear off when they scratch the surface a little more."