Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota speaks to the Christian Chamber of Commerce at Christ Central Ministries in Columbia, S.C., on Monday.
Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota speaks to the Christian Chamber of Commerce at Christ Central Ministries in Columbia, S.C., on Monday. Brett Flashnick/AP
After several weeks of campaigning, Michele Bachmann has become a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination. She has been campaigning in South Carolina, which hosts the first Southern primary of 2012. The winner in South Carolina has gone on to win every Republican nomination since 1980.
A small crowd of about 150 people gathered at an event on a narrow street in the small town of Aiken. It was billed as a "Rally in the Alley." Bachmann began by going after President Obama on the debt ceiling.
"It's a pleasure to be able to be here today," Bachmann began. "I just wanted to ask all of you here: How many of you want me to go back to Washington, D.C., today and let the politicians have more authority to borrow more money that we don't have?"
The crowd enthusiastically shouted in unison, "No."
Bachmann says she's a "no" vote on raising the debt ceiling — no matter what kind of deal is struck. She is using these early weeks of her candidacy to drive home her commitment to slash government spending, but she is hardly neglecting nonfiscal issues.
During an appearance this week hosted by the Christian Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, S.C., she was asked about her personal faith.
"I'm a believer in Jesus Christ," Bachmann answered. "I was born into a family where we were Lutherans. I'm sure that the Gospel was preached from the pulpit. I just didn't hear it."
Bachman then went on to describe how at 16 she gave her heart to Jesus Christ.
Group member Bruce Snell closed the event with a prayer: "Lord, I ask that right now that, Lord, amid all the distractions, that you protect our sister and her family from all of the attacks. And that, Lord, I pray right now that you strengthen and open our spiritual eyes, ears and hearts."
There have been controversies — including reports about clinics Bachmann's husband runs where, among other services, homosexuals are counseled on how to become heterosexual.
And the conservative website The Daily Caller had a story this week that said Bachmann suffers from debilitating migraine headaches. That prompted her to read a statement to reporters in Aiken.
"I have prescribed medication that I take on occasion, whenever symptoms arise, and they keep my migraines under control. But I'd like to be abundantly clear. My ability to function effectively ... will not affect my ability to serve as commander in chief," she said.
In South Carolina, evangelicals dominate Republican politics. Political scientist Adolphus Belk Jr. at Winthrop University says Bachmann appeals to them.
"It's very clear that she speaks to fiscal conservatives, and people that are concerned about the overall financial well-being of the nation going forward — Tea Party Republicans and Tea Party-leaning independents," he says.
But Belk says some work will have to be done on the national security front. And that's another key group, given how many South Carolinians serve or have served in the military.
"South Carolinians are still trying to get a feel for the Republican field," Belk adds.
That describes 56-year-old business owner Cynthia Minter, who was at a Bachmann appearance.
"I'm just so neutral right now, to be honest, I'm here to see Michele to learn more," she said.
Retired minister Leroy Dodson, however, was ready to commit.
"I told my wife when I got up, whatever [Bachmann] runs for, I would vote for her. I mean, she's very positive," he says.
Dodson's tone is not unusual. Bachmann devotees are very enthusiastic, and she hopes they'll go forth and multiply in a state that has launched so many GOP winners in the past.