LOS ANGELES -- Dressed in a Republican red dress, presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann on Friday faced down an opponent who may have a bigger megaphone than any of her political rivals: late night comedian Jay Leno.
“Thanks for being a good sport,” Leno told the Minnesota congresswoman as she settled in on the set of the Tonight Show, joining a long line of presidential candidates who have tried to use late-night TV as an image burnisher. “We’ve done a million jokes. Hopefully, you haven’t been watching any of them.”
Bachmann taped her segment before heading downtown to address the California Republican Party's fall convention.
Leno, who sighed autographed photos for Bachmann’s children in the green room before the show, quickly set aside the jokes and set to grilling Bachmann on her chances in the Republican presidential contest. The tone was friendly, but the talk show host told the congresswoman she is “pretty strident” and challenged her views on a vaccine against cervical cancer and, especially, homosexuality.
“This whole ‘pray the gay away ‘ thing, I don’t get it,” said Leno. He told the congresswoman he knows gay couples with children and asked “why they shouldn’t be allowed to be happy?”
Bachmann co-owns a Christian counseling clinic with her husband that offers to convert clients from homosexuality, argued that “the family is foundational and marriage between a man and a woman has been the law for years and years.”
Pressed on her opposition to a vaccination aimed at preventing cervical cancer, the congresswoman offered a new reason for her stand: “It gives a false sense of assurance to a young woman when she has that that if she’s sexually active that she doesn’t have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases,” Bachmann said. Bachmann, who has become the target of widespread derision in the medical community after reporting that a woman in the debate audience told her that her daughter became mentally retarded after receiving the vaccination, said she is not opposed to immunizations against other ailments.
She acknowledged that Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance in the race may have caused her drop in the polls. “It changes the dynamic,” Bachmann said. “But we’re in for the marathon. We’re not in for the sprint.” Asked about the possibility of Sarah Palin, the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, entering the race, Bachmann said: “She may decide to do it. And the more people who come in, the merrier.”
While most of the exchange was fairly serious, Leno managed to work in a one liner when he asked Bachmann about her uncompromising stands. “Convicted. I’m convicted,” the congresswoman said.
Leno corrected her on her verb usage. “You don’t get convicted until after you’r e in office,” he said. “You have to get elected first.”
Bachmann turned the tables on Leno when he asked who she’d want as a runningmate, saying she couldn’t pick him because “you don’t want a cut in pay.”
The Tonight host said he had other reasons for not accepting the job. “ We’d probably have a fight over the gay thing.” Said Bachmann: “Yeah.”
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