GOP Primary Voters Explore Bachmann's Campaign

Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann formally announced on Monday that she is running for the GOP presidential nomination. She made the announcement in Waterloo, Iowa, where she lived until she was 12 years old.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann is trying to set herself apart in the crowded field of Republican rivals for the 2012 presidential nomination. Some candidates appeal to Tea Party budget hawks, others to Christian conservatives. Bachmann wants both. NPR's Don Gonyea spoke with people in the audience at Bachmann's opening rally in Waterloo, Iowa.

DON GONYEA: Michele Bachmann came to Waterloo for her first campaign rally because she spent the first 12 years of her life in the city - a fact that allows her to claim Iowa, the first in the nation caucus state, as home turf.

At that event, she described what might be called the Bachmann coalition.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): 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 cheering and applause)

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

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: In this election season, there have been frequent reminders of divisions among Republicans, some of whom say the focus needs to be on the economy because that's where President Obama can be beaten, while others insist that social issues need to remain front and center, that the party needs a candidate who will fight abortion and same-sex marriage.

But these groups seem to find common ground in Michele Bachmann. The crowd in Waterloo yesterday numbered a few hundred. Sixty-five-year-old Sharon Adams was there, wearing a Bachmann campaign button. Her top issue...

Ms. SHARON ADAMS: Abortion, abortion. We have to save the lives of our babies.

GONYEA: And Adams says Bachmann has all the right priorities.

Ms. ADAMS: She just strikes me as somebody that stands above the crowd. She just is ready and willing to devote her life to getting America back on track.

GONYEA: Zach Beschorner also came out to see Bachmann. He's 37. He owns a real estate company. But if you ask him about abortion and same-sex marriage and social issues, he cuts you off.

Mr. ZACH BESCHORNER: Those aren't my issues. Nope, nope. Actually, I kind of favor same-sex marriage.

GONYEA: Beschorner is a member of the Tea Party. For him, it's all about government spending and the growing financial crisis he says the nation is in. He's firmly in Bachmann's camp.

Mr. BESCHORNER: It would be hard to dissuade me. She is exactly what I - we need somebody with common sense and she has it, I can tell.

GONYEA: Campaign events at this point in the contest draw the undecided as well, including lots of people who just want to check the candidate out in person. Thirty-nine-year-old homemaker and mother of two Jennifer Green, of West Des Moines, made the two hour drive to get a look at Bachmann. She says she's interested but that it's early.

Ms. JENNIFER GREEN: And who's to say she's the one? She sounds different. She sounds outside the box. I think this is a pretty significant election. I don't want somebody who's part of the machine. I want somebody who's going to take on the machine.

GONYEA: Also in the crowd was 32-year-old Tyler Vincent. He described himself using three negatives - not a Republican, not a conservative, and not Tea Party. He did say he won't be voting for Michele Bachmann, but he also said he could see her doing very well.

Mr. TYLER VINCENT: I've never seen morale lower in the nation, you know. And there are a number of reasons for that. So if she can tap into that and play all those chords right, you know, she could go a long way.

GONYEA: Comments like that, even from people who don't like her politics, show that Bachmann has succeeded at one thing very early in the campaign. She's gotten people's attention, and now she'll try to use it to crack into the top tier of candidates in the Republican race.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Waterloo, Iowa.

(Soundbite of music)

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