Tapping in to Florida's grassroots and tea leaves, Michele Bachmann takes her first campaign swing through the state this weekend.
Beginning Friday in Jacksonville Beach, then on to Orlando and Sarasota, the Minnesota congresswoman will seek to parlay her Iowa straw poll victory into top-tier status in the Sunshine State.
Bachmann's visit comes at a crucial time. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is surging in the polls and on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
Mitt Romney already has a state organization dating from his 2008 run and Ron Paul will garner votes from the party's libertarian wing.
Sarasota County GOP chairman Joe Gruters says the race remains "wide open" in Florida because none of the major presidential candidates has committed to waging a concerted grassroots campaign here.
"If [establishment] endorsements counted, Tim Pawlenty would be the nominee. Whoever resonates with the base, the grassroots activists, will win," Gruters said.
Gruters points to the party's Presidency 5 straw poll as a bellwether.
"Anybody who skips P5 doesn't deserve to win the Florida primary. It's a slap in the face of activists across the state. It's a slap in the face of our party," he said.
So far, only Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain have committed to participating in the P5 poll, which will be held Sept. 24 in Orlando. Romney and Bachmann have said they will not compete, and Perry's campaign has not yet said what it will do.
Gruters, who will co-host Bachmann's appearance in Sarasota on Sunday, said he will press the congresswoman to participate in the straw poll of 3,500 GOP delegates.
"If you win P5, you can win the primary. If you win the primary, you will likely be the party's nominee," said Gruters, who added that he has no preferred candidate at this point.
Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart told Sunshine State News the candidate is not inclined to enter the straw poll "at this time."
As for the weekend tour, Stewart said Bachmann "will meet with Floridians to discuss the important issues facing our nation including the debt crisis, job creation and economic growth."
Bachmann is expected to draw a standing-room-only crowd at the Sahib Shrine in Sarasota on Sunday. The free event is co-sponsored by the Republican parties of Sarasota, Charlotte and Hardee counties, along with Taking Back Our Country (Englewood); Tea Party Manatee; Sarasota Patriots; and Venice 912.
The congresswoman, who founded and chairs the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House, starts her Florida swing at Angie's Sub Shop in Jacksonville Beach on Friday.
The shop made headlines last year when owner Ed Malin posted a sign declaring: Bible thumpin, gun totin capitalist pig owns this joint.
On Saturday morning, Bachmann will appear at a Poinciana Town Hall. That evening she will be the keynote speaker at the Florida Family Policy Council awards dinner in Orlando.
On Sunday morning, the congresswoman will attend services at the Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, and then conclude her tour in Sarasota Sunday afternoon.
Brian Graham, who heads Dixie Strategies, a Florida-based political consulting firm, calls Bachmann a "good conservative," but he has reservations.
"I feel Republicans are looking for someone who can beat the president, but she suffers from the exact same lack of experience as Obama, and thats executive experience," Graham said.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or (772) 801-5341.