Bachmann Kicks Off Her Presidential Campaign

The presidential campaign of Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann got underway Monday with a campaign event in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa. Bachmann spoke in Waterloo, where she was born and lived as a child. Bachmann combines social and fiscal conservatism — along with deep involvement in the tea party movement. Those things are already yielding results in Iowa, where a new poll in the Des Moines Register puts her in a dead heat with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

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Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann kicked off her presidential campaign today with an event in Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born. Bachmann is a social and fiscal conservative, deeply involved in the Tea Party movement, and her message is playing well in Iowa. A new poll in the Des Moines Register puts her in a dead heat with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: This was billed as a homecoming for Michele Bachmann, the backdrop a historic Victorian mansion in a downtown park bedecked with not just the American flag but with Iowa's state flag as well.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): Good morning. It is so great to be here in Iowa this morning and even better to be here in Waterloo where I was born.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Bachmann moved to Minnesota when she was 12 years old, but today she sounded like she never left.

Rep. BACHMANN: I often say that everything I need to know I learned in Iowa.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Her Iowa credentials established, she moved on to attacking the current occupant of the White House.

Rep. BACHMANN: We can't continue to rack up debt and hand it, and put it on the backs of the next generation. We can't afford the unconstitutional health care law that will cost us too much and deliver so little. We can't afford...

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Cheers came again when she finished that line, that the nation can't afford four more years of President Obama. Bachmann talked of creating jobs and of stopping runaway government spending and of slashing the federal debt. But she offered no specifics today. Instead, she reached out to the constituencies she hopes will fuel her campaign.

Rep. BACHMANN: It's made up of peace-through-strength conservatives, and I am one of those. It is made up of fiscal conservatives, and I am one of those. It is made up of social conservatives, and I am one of those.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. BACHMANN: And it's made up of the Tea Party movement, and I am one of those.

GONYEA: Bachmann's strong showing in a Des Moines Register poll over the weekend, in which she's essentially even with Romney, indicates that the state's likely caucus participants, a group dominated by evangelicals, are glad she's in the race.

That's not such bad news for Romney, who's focusing his resources on states other than Iowa. But Bachmann's poll numbers have already prompted a reaction from her fellow Minnesotan, former governor Tim Pawlenty, who is going after the same voters and who is well back in the pack in polling. He went up with a new radio ad in the state today that ends with the line: Tim Pawlenty, results not rhetoric.

Meanwhile, back at the Bachmann event, 65-year-old Barbara Heit of Waterloo says she likes Bachmann's rhetoric.

Ms. BARBARA HEIT: She's got the experience. She's in Washington now, and she's genuine, and I just feel she's going to speak the truth, not telling us what we want to hear, but she will get things back in order.

GONYEA: If Iowa seems a natural fit for Bachmann, other states where GOP voting is not as dominated by social conservatives will prove a bigger challenge. Those places will also be a test of her no-compromise brand of conservatism that plays so well with the Tea Party.

Then there are those other big things she needs to master: debates, grueling hours, press interviews and countless town halls. Perhaps the next big test will be to see what kind of fundraising totals she reports. We'll learn more about that in the next couple of weeks.

For now, she remains an underdog but one looking to break into the top tier of GOP presidential hopefuls. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Waterloo, Iowa.

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