Bachmann: The Smart Version of Palin

College smarts matter to some voters, and Bachmann has them.

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They're both trailblazers, one the first female governor of Alaska, the other the first woman House member from Minnesota. They're both social firebrands on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Both can raise tons of political donations. They both have five kids and a working husband. They both reach similar voters, especially Tea Party activists. And they've both been known to mangle American history. 

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

So how is the nation supposed to choose between Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann if they both get into the presidential race? In a word: smarts. If we had to make a pick based on school smarts and book smarts, Bachmann would win. Because when it comes to picking presidents, the nation has a history of going for the brainy candidates. (The three preceding Obama--a Harvard grad--went to Yale.)

"It's not the be-all, end-all," say pollster John Zogby, but "it's a factor and it can be used against" Palin.

And especially after Bachmann's dominating performance in Monday night's GOP candidate debate in New Hampshire, adds Zogby. "Michele Bachmann certainly raised expectations for herself. She came off as a capable, serious candidate and not just a populist who looks good." Palin, he adds, "is a populist who looks good."

Consider their schooling. Palin's journey en route to earning a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Idaho in 1987 included stops at: the University of Hawaii, the Hawaii Pacific University, North Idaho community college, Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska, and eventually Idaho. [See photos of Palin and her family.]

After high school, meanwhile, the disciplined Bachmann spent time on a Kibbutz in Israel, graduated from Winona State University with a bachelor's of arts, got her law degree at Oral Roberts University, and followed up with a tax law degree from the exclusive William & Mary Law School. [See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.]

"I don't think anybody doubts Sarah Palin is smart in her own way," says Zogby, who does the weekly Washington Whispers report card on President Obama. "But having a good education at least helps you stay where you are in life and can provide an edge." [Check out political cartoons about Palin.]

If not school smarts, educated style might be where the two Tea Party favorites can be divided. Stephen Hess, presidency and media expert at the Brookings Institution, says in watching Monday night's debate it was hard to figure out the educational background of the candidates.

"Newt Gingrich has by far the most education—Emory, Tulane—but reminds me of a rumpled suit; Mitt Romney, from Brigham Young, looks Ivy League; and I would not have paired Bachmann with Oral Roberts, might have guessed one of the top Big 10 schools. It's style that matters," he says.

To help size up the two likely presidential candidates as they fight for the same political lane, let's use a scorecard.

Bachmann Vs. Palin

Formal education: Bachmann wins with her two law degrees.

Political activism: Bachmann wins, having jumped into politics in high school as a Carter Democrat but changing to the GOP to back Ronald Reagan after souring on Carter and abortion politics. Palin was a reporter before entering politics to run for Wasilla city council.

Family: If it's about kids, Bachmann wins. Both have five of their own, but Bachmann added 23 foster kids and even helped to open a charter school.

Firsts: A draw, since they were both the first women in their top political jobs.

Politics: Palin quit her gubernatorial job before her first term ended, but she has tons more executive experience, being a mayor and governor and of course running for vice president. Palin wins.

Fundraising: Bachmann. While Palin can raise a ton for her activities, Bachmann raised it when she needed it most for her tight elections, including last year when she won the most expensive House race ever.

Music choices: Palin, who recently endorsed hip-hop and whose young kids keep her up with today's sounds. Bachmann, at the debate, couldn't choose between Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Mangling history: Palin's retelling of Paul Revere's ride was silly and inaccurate, and Bachmann was just dead wrong saying the American revolution started in New Hampshire. Obviously neither studied the Revolutionary War in their varied colleges.

  • Read 5 reasons Palin will get the GOP nod.
  • See a slide show of who's running and who's not in the Republican primaries.
  • Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?