Bachmann Storms Waterloo in First Campaign Speech
Policy + Politics

Bachmann Storms Waterloo in First Campaign Speech

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

High-flying Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on Monday formally launched her 2012 election campaign with a speech in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, vowing to slash the federal deficit, dramatically downsize the federal government and get the economy back on track to recovery.

The three-term Republican House member and Tea Party darling, who in 2008 challenged Obama’s patriotism, was once dismissed by political analysts as largely a fringe conservative activist. But in the wake of her impressive showing at the first major Republican presidential candidates’ debate in New Hampshire earlier this month, her prowess as a fundraiser and her strong showing in the polls, Bachmann is now arguably the strongest rival to former governor Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination. The latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows Bachmann in a statistical dead heat against Mitt Romney, the front runner.

With the gritty industrial town of Waterloo as a backdrop, Bachmann sought to introduce herself to a wider American voting public while critiquing Obama’s economic and legislative record. “We cannot continue to rack up debt on the backs of future generations,” she said. “We can’t afford an unconstitutional health plan that costs too much and is worth so little. We can’t afford four more years of failed leadership at home and abroad. We can’t afford four more years of millions of Americans out of work or in jobs that pay too little to support their families.”

Americans should “declare independence
from a government that has gotten
too big, and spends too much, and has
taken away too many of our liberties.”

Bachmann said that as president, she would slash the $1.5 trillion annual federal deficit and shrink the role of the federal government. And as a constitutional conservative, she added, “I believe in the Founding Father’s vision of a limited government that trusts in and preserves the unlimited potential of the American people.”

She said that Americans should “declare independence from a government that has gotten too big, and spends too much, and has taken away too many of our liberties.”

A former tax attorney and the mother of five biological children and 23 foster children, Bachmann, 55,  was elected to Minnesota’s 6th congressional district in 2006 after serving six years in the state Senate. A born-again Christian, she first appeared on the public radar in an October 2008 MSNBC appearance when she called then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and other Democrats “anti-American,” and urged Congress to probe the issue. She went on to raise more than $11 million for her 2010 reelection bid — the most by any House candidate — and to form and lead the official House Tea Party Caucus.“Everything I need to know, I learned in Iowa,” Bachmann told an audience of friends, family and supporters today. “.This is where my Iowa roots were firmly planted, and it’s these Iowa roots and my faith in God that guides me today.”

Bachmann is clearly surging in the race, while other better known Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty are floundering in the presidential competition. A new Iowa poll, the first snapshot in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, found Bachmann statistically tied with Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, among likely Republican caucus-goers there. Romney was favored by 23 percent of respondents while Bachmann was backed by 22 percent in the Des Moines Register poll. Businessman Herman Cain is third with 10 percent, while all other candidates were in single digits.

In all, nine top Republicans have either tossed their hat in the ring or plan to, while others, such as former New York governor George Pataki, have suggested they may be on the verge of doing so as well. The release of the Iowa poll was perfect timing for Bachmann, who hopes to build on that momentum of her announcement with a campaign swing through New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But Bachmann isn’t alone in scouting the GOP battleground state of Iowa. Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin arrives in Des Moines tomorrow with her husband, Todd, to attend the premiere of “The Undefeated,” a documentary about Palin’s political career directed by conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon. The screening will be held about 40 miles outside of Des Moines, at an opera house in the town of Pella.

Palin and Bachmann are natural rivals: They draw support from the same base of Tea Party conservatives. Palin’s appearance will almost certainly distract from Bachmann’s surge in Iowa, which is home to the first presidential caucus of the 2012 election season. The former Alaska governor enjoyed stealing some of Romney’s political thunder on June 3, when she took her bus caravan to New Hampshire for an appearance only hours after Romney had formally announced his candidacy in the state.

Bachmann has many of the right tools at her disposal to continue her meteoric rise as a Romney alternative and promising candidate, according to Linda DiVall, a Republican strategist. “She’s got the women’s vote, the evangelical portion of the electorate to aim for, the Tea Party constituency, and her business experience and acumen to leverage…and I would also imagine she’s going to have a good fundraising story that she’s going to be able to tell,” DiVall told The Fiscal Times. “She brings a number of coalitions to the table which makes her even more formidable in a caucus where it’s all about organization.” Being a native of Iowa gives her an added leg up in the primary and caucus season, DiVall said. 

But her ability to generate widespread support in other key battleground states with more moderate Republicans and independents to clinch the nomination is less of a sure thing in the eyes of other GOP strategists. “She clearly represents a segment of the party that is not enough, at least at this point, to get the nomination,” said David Winston. “Once she’s outside of Iowa, if she gets there, she needs a strategy to try and reach the majority of Republicans and some Independents.  I haven’t seen that yet.”

Moreover, Bachmann will be facing much more intense scrutiny by the media   and her opponents as she surges to the front of the pack. For example, on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace grilled Bachmann about a series of apparent inconsistencies in her legislative record and personal background — from Medicare to government subsidies and earmarks, to her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Then, as he wrapped up the interview, Wallace asked her, “Are you a flake?”

“I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I’m a serious person,” a clearly miffed Bachmann replied.

Related Links:
Michele Bachmann: Of and For the Tea Party (The Washington Post)
From Fringe Figure to Movement Leader: Michele Bachmann’s Far-Right Roots (The Huffington Post
Bachmann: ’Iowa Roots,’ Faith Drive Decision to Run (The Hill)