Bachmann stresses Iowa roots, faith as she launches White House campaign

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) launched her presidential campaign Monday with an emphasis on her Iowa roots and religion.

Bachmann, who is making Iowa the centerpiece of her campaign strategy, mentioned the state 14 times in her announcement speech.

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She also drew on her background as a native Iowan and an evangelical Christian when she spoke in her hometown of Waterloo, where she said Americans “can’t afford four more years of Barack Obama.”

President Obama’s campaign took the unusual step of responding to her announcement, trying to define Bachmann as anything but mainstream.

“She voted for a budget plan that would extend tax cuts for the richest Americans on the backs of seniors and the middle class while ending Medicare as we know it,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “Congresswoman Bachmann introduced legislation to repeal Wall Street oversight — risking a repeat of the financial crisis — and while she voted to preserve subsidies for oil and gas companies, she opposes making the investments necessary to enhance America’s competitiveness and create the jobs of the future.”

Bachmann’s announcement was an unmistakable bid to fill the void in the Republican presidential field for a Tea Party candidate. She’s been one of the top figures for the grassroots conservative movement, going so far as to found the Congressional Tea Party Caucus last year.

She made a clear play for those Tea Party voters in her Waterloo address, calling herself a “bold choice” for primary voters, while also seeking to embrace a broad swath of Republican voters.

The Tea Party is not a “fringe” movement, Bachmann said in casting herself as a firmly mainstream Republican.

“I am here in Waterloo, Iowa, to announce today: We can win in 2012, and we will. Our voice has been growing louder and stronger. And it is made up of Americans from all walks of life like a three-legged stool,” she said. “It’s the peace-through-strength Republicans, and I’m one of them; it’s fiscal conservatives, and I’m one of them; and it’s social conservatives, and I’m one of them; it’s the Tea Party movement, and I’m one of them.”

Her speech, on the steps of the historic Snowden House, heaped praise upon Iowans and served up bread-and-butter conservatism.

“This is where my Iowa roots were firmly planted. And it’s these Iowa roots and this faith in God that guide me today,” she said.

Whether Bachmann can escape being defined as a fringe candidate will be one of the primary challenges of her candidacy; she has a history of making incendiary statements about Obama and Democrats, but she’s backed off that as of late. (She acknowledged Sunday that accusing Obama in 2008 of holding “anti-American” views was a mistake.)

The three-term congresswoman has a real incentive to project seriousness, too, judging by the past weekend’s Iowa Poll. The survey results, published in Sunday’s Des Moines Register, showed that 22 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers would support Bachmann, placing her only a point behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who’s unlikely to contend aggressively in the caucuses.

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Whether Bachmann will be able to build a solid base in Iowa and beyond is one of the major tests for her campaign. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has been advertising aggressively in the state, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will be in Iowa on Tuesday to screen a new biographical movie, “The Undefeated,” which lauds her political career.

Palin is thought to be a natural competitor for the same segment of the Republican electorate that Bachmann has targeted. And if Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) enters the race, he could contend for the same supporters. 

Bachmann’s campaign will make a play for Iowa’s numerous social conservative voters. She made frequent references to faith and religion during the roughly half-hour speech. She quoted Scripture toward the end of her announcement, and attributed her decision to run to gratitude for blessings she had received “both from God and from this great country.”

Following her announcement, Bachmann will look to carry that momentum to New Hampshire and South Carolina, the two states that follow Iowa on the primary calendar, with events there Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. 



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