DES MOINES, Iowa – When Michele Bachmann formally kicks off her bid for the White House on Monday in Iowa, she’ll do so after allowing precious weeks to pass without having established the presence needed in the state to woo the GOP activists considered key to winning its leadoff caucuses.

Bachmann’s slow open has left political players in the state wondering if the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota has the commitment to build the kind of grass-roots campaign and work to win voters in face-to-face meetings that have led past winners of the Iowa caucuses to success.

Her absence also has allowed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose no-nonsense style attracts social conservatives who might support Bachmann, to creep into the Iowa discussion and begin to set up a campaign infrastructure.

“Missed opportunity and lost potential – she had months of free rein here to organize and mobilize,” said Chuck Laudner, a former Iowa Republican Party executive director and longtime aide to Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King. “Now, it opens the door to Rick Perry. They’ve given him fertile ground to put an organization together.”

Securing a foothold in Iowa is important for Bachmann. She’s both a native of the state, having grown up in Waterloo, and a neighbor, having moved to Minnesota at age 12. Her popularity among Christian conservatives and tea party activists also make her a natural fit for the caucus electorate.

A strong finish in Iowa for the three-term congresswoman also could launch her as the key challenger to establishment Republicans in later nominating contests, most notably former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hopes to draw on the same hometown relationship in New Hampshire that Bachmann has in Iowa.

Winning the Iowa caucuses traditionally requires a candidate to personally court the activists and party diehards who will attend the precinct-level political meetings on caucus night and literally stand up for their candidate. Successful candidates typically hire skilled organizers who know how to navigate the state’s party landscape.