Maintaining a steady climb to the nomination is a challenge for every candidate, but Bachmann appears to be moving carefully. While Dean and Bachmann both came from outside their party establishments, Dean remained on the fringe well into primary season, most notably with the infamous “Dean scream” following a disappointing Iowa loss.

Bachmann, on the other hand, has surprised many voters by making a concerted effort to shift away from the margins. While she’s willing to challenge specific Republican policies and put “principle over party,” she’s toned down much of the extreme rhetoric and behavior exhibited as the darling of the tea party movement, now speaking seriously on Sunday talk shows, traveling overseas to bolster her foreign policy credentials, and focusing on the important and timely issue of the debt crisis.

Election Day is still a long way off and Bachmann needs to grapple with a number of potential liabilities – from previous statements to her history of social conservatism that concerns many more libertarian-leaning voters – but she appears to be planning to go the distance.