AUDIE CORNISH, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
While President Barack Obama tries to capture the high ground on the deficit debate, the landscape among Republicans candidates seeking to replace him is changing all the time. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann spent the last few days trying to take back the media spotlight Governor Rick Perry commandeered after the Iowa straw poll.
And she took her show on the road to California, where NPR's Ina Jaffe filed this report.
INA JAFFE: There is one place that politicians, movie stars and other celebrities go when they want to give their image a boost.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW")
EDD HALL: It's the Tonight Show with Jay Leno...
JAFFE: Friday night, Bachmann took the stage wearing a slim red dress instead of her usual tailored suit. Leno asked her about her criticism last week of frontrunner Rick Perry for using an executive order to require Texas girls to get a vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.
JAY LENO: And I mean is that bad? I mean it's a vaccine...
MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I think so.
LENO: ...to prevent - what is it, cervical cancer? What am I missing?
BACHMANN: Well, it's HPV and the concern is that there's, you know, potentially side effects that could come with something like that. But it...
JAFFE: Bachmann scored points when she tore into Perry at the CNN debate. But the next morning she managed to turn that win into a controversy, telling "The Today Show" of her encounter with a tearful woman who said her daughter had taken the vaccine.
BACHMANN: And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.
JAFFE: The medical community went wild because there is no evidence supporting such a disastrous side effect. Bachmann has spent days trying to explain her comment. But misstatements of fact have almost become a Bachmann trademark.
The nonpartisan organization PolitiFact has rated a higher percentage of her statements false than those of any major presidential contender.
At the California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles this weekend, she made what is arguably another questionable statement when she predicted that this solidly blue state won't stay that way in the next election.
BACHMANN: I believe that 2012 will be a wave election that goes all across the United States. It will even take in the Golden State. I am so excited about what's to come.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
JAFFE: And on that glorious day, Bachmann wants to be the one to chase President Obama from the White House. During her 40-minute speech she slammed Mr. Obama's health care overhaul, his tax proposals, and even the ending of the space shuttle program. She also knocked the president's foreign policy, saying he was sending dangerous signals to the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East.
BACHMANN: You wonder why we have had the hostilities of this Arab Spring. And we saw President Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands during that falling.
JAFFE: Bachmann left the stage to a standing ovation.
JULIE GILBART: I loved everything she said, completely 110 percent. We all thought that.
CORNISH: I did too.
Unidentified Woman #2: Absolutely.
JAFFE: Julie Gilbart and her friends also agreed that 2012 is a do or die election. And Bachmann has one obvious drawback as a potential nominee - she's a woman.
GILBART: We have no problem with electing a woman. But the population at large. How many women presidents have we had? Zero. Is this the year we want to take a risk that we'll run our first woman candidate? I'm not so sure that's a good idea at this time.
JAFFE: And as far as the issues are concerned, Robert Mitchell says conservatives know they don't really lose anything by backing a candidate other than Bachmann.
ROBERT MITCHELL: Because all of her issues that are Tea Party issues are issues are also issues that the other candidates can carry.
JAFFE: Bachmann's campaign is now focused largely on the Iowa caucuses, where she hopes that Tea Party and evangelical support will put her over the top. This weekend may have been just a little California dreamin'.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.