When a commercial break ended during Thursday’s Ames, Iowa, Republican debate, the seven men were back behind their podiums awaiting more questions from Fox News moderator Bret Baier. Oops, one of the presidential hopefuls was missing— Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE, the only woman.

In the seconds it took for her to resume her place, I was probably not alone in wondering if she was frantically medicating one of the debilitating migraines we read about recently.

Nope, we soon learned that during every commercial break of the two-hour debate, Bachmann was having her makeup refreshed.

Her male counterparts were likely powdered up a bit for the cameras, but if any of them were worried about their blush or lip gloss, we haven’t heard about it yet.

The weird sight of the empty podium reminded me of the difficulty that women face in running for national office. While much of the media might dismiss Bachmann as a flash in the frying pan, she certainly takes herself extremely seriously, and she knows, as did Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton‘The Progressive Liberal’ gains notoriety as a red-state pro wrestling villain Mellman: Aversion to difference New Alexandra Pelosi documentary brings together GOP, Dem members MORE, that women need to look especially good on camera.

If Bachmann stays in the race, she will, I’ll wager, pay ever closer attention to her looks — and pay much more to make sure that the public likes what it sees.

Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll reported on July 26 that Bachmann spent $4,700 on hair and makeup in the weeks since her June 13 entry into the run for the White House. This was a departure from the modest amounts her campaign shelled out in 2010, a year when she ran for reelection to Congress. That $4,700 will pale in comparison to what she’ll be shelling out should she reach the semifinals. Imagine the Republican nomination battle narrowing to Bachmann and Romney and Perry — a woman against two conventionally handsome men.

Or imagine that Bachmann is the nominee — impossible, in my opinion, but then again, in 1980, I didn’t see Ronald Reagan going all the way. Michele vs. Barack will feature Michele suffering the same monotonous day-in-and-day-out problem that afflicted Hillary Clinton in her one-on-one with Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOvernight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Why UK millennials voting for socialism could happen here, too Overnight Regulation: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule | Labor chief to review overtime rule | Record fine for Google MORE.

Despite sleeping too little, night after night, Hillary never looked as good before or since. Then again, she employed the daily services of a makeup woman, a hairdresser and a dresser (her body woman, Huma Abedin, more famous now as the humiliated wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.). That took both money and time, commodities that the ever-neat and -cool Barack Obama, with his buzz cut and his uniform of black suit and white shirt, could spend on strategizing to win.

A woman striving to reach the White House faces an extra barrier in the U.S. in the 21st century. That oft-made observation about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers speaks as much to politics as to show-biz: “Sure, he [Astaire] was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards … and in high heels!”