Michele Bachmann may have found the issue that will re-ignite her bid for the Republican presidential nomination, and it has nothing to do with repealing President Obama's health care law.
The Minnesota congresswoman pounded Texas Gov. Rick Perry at Monday night's debate in Tampa, Fla. over his use of an executive order in 2007 to mandate that all Texas girls entering the 6th grade receive a vaccine for human papillomavirus virus, a sexually transmitted disease that affects millions and can cause cervical cancer. Conservatives in the Texas legislature launched a campaign to override the executive order and won.
"I'm a mom of three children," Bachmann said, referring to her three daughters--she has five biological children and more than 20 foster children. "And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest."
The issue is a triple-whammy against Perry. First, it resonates with social conservatives who worry that vaccinating against the disease will encourage sexual promiscuity. Second, government intervention on the issue of vaccines, combined with Perry's use of an executive order, makes limited-government conservatives uneasy, even though students can opt-out of the program. Third--and perhaps the most damning--Bachmann pointed out that the pharmaceutical company that makes the vaccine donated to Perry's re-election campaign.
Perry conceded at the debate that he should not have used an executive order to implement the policy, but did not apologize for it in principle.
But Bachmann took the attack further, suggesting that the only reason Perry pursued the mandate was a major campaign donation from Merck & Co., the company that manufactures the drug used in the vaccination. Merck has donated $29,500 over the past decade to Perry; $6,000 in 2002 and an addition $16,000 just prior to the executive order, according to the Texas Tribune.
"I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't deny that," she said. "It's wrong for a drug company, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong."
And she's not a lone crusader. After the debate, Sarah Palin adopted Bachmann's cause on Fox News.
"True reform and fighting the corruption and fighting the crony capitalism is a tough thing to do within your own party. You have to go up against the big guns," Palin said. "We have to call one another out on things that have led to the crony capitalism, to the favors, to the back door dealings that have led to, on a state and a federal level, this distrust of government."
Bachmann's campaign blasted out a fundraising email after the debate further excoriating Perry.
"I'm offended," the subject line of the email read. Perry had said during the debate that he was "offended" Bachmann would suggest that he could be "bought" by a six-figure donation from the drug company, to which she replied, "Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. That's what I'm offended for."
In an interview after the debate, Bachmann called the vaccine "potentially dangerous" and suggested that it causes "mental retardation" among "innocent girls." The Center for Disease Control reports no such side effects to the vaccine.
This isn't the first time Perry has dealt with attacks over his support of mandated HPV vaccinations. The issue came up in his third run for governor in Texas, although he eventually overcame it and won the election.
Don't expect this controversy to go away anytime soon. This could be the issue that keeps Bachmann in the race, and is something she will probably continue to campaign on for the rest of the cycle. "Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan," she said at the debate. "They don't get a do-over. "