“She’s exactly on TV as she is in person,” exclaimed Coca Astey, 46, of San Diego. “There is no other Michele.”

Therein lies the rub for party leaders.

They would like to capitalize on the fervor of the tea party foot soldiers, who have been quick to adopt Bachmann as an icon of their movement. But they’re wary of the movement’s fringe elements and, at times, of Bachmann, who made a name for herself last year when she called for an investigation into “anti-America” members of Congress and more recently when she referred to the Democrats’ health care plan as the “crown jewel of socialism.”

As the tea party revelers relished in Bachmann’s rising star, so, too, did the Democrats — who see the Minnesota representative’s ascension to the top of the GOP as a sign of the party’s weakness.