(Updates with comments from Bachmann, Obama campaign spokesman, starting in seventh paragraph.)
June 27 (Bloomberg) -- Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman whose attacks on President Barack Obama made her a favorite of Tea Party activists, officially entered the 2012 Republican presidential contest today in a state critical to her odds for success.
“I seek the presidency not for vanity, but because America is at a crucial moment and I believe that we must make a bold choice if we are to secure the promise of our future,” Bachmann told supporters in Waterloo, Iowa.
“I want to bring a voice, your voice, to the White House just as I brought your voice to the halls of the United States Congress,” she said, starting her campaign in the city where she was born and the state where a strong finish in next year’s caucuses would solidify her as a major challenger to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in polls in the Republican race.
“The great people of this country are longing for a president who will listen to them and who will lead from the front and not from behind,” she said.
Bachmann, 55, charged that Obama has failed to deliver on a pledge to turn around the nation’s economy. “Mister President, your policies haven’t worked,” she said. “Spending our way out of the recession hasn’t worked.”
Bachmann quoted a February 2009 interview in which Obama said that “if I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
Said Bachmann: “And so, Mister President, we take you at your word.”
She offered herself as a candidate with appeal to a wide spectrum of the electorate, reminding her listeners that she was brought up in a family of Democrats and worked as a volunteer for former President Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign.
“Our problems don’t have an identity of party, they are problems that were created by both parties,” she said. “Americans aren’t interested in affiliation, they’re interested in solutions.”
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Obama’s re-election bid, issued a statement today critical of her voting record in Congress, including her support for a Republican budget plan that includes a proposal to convert the government-run Medicare program to a system of subsidized private health coverage.
“Her policies would erode the path to prosperity for middle-class families,” LaBolt said. “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.”
The transition to presidential candidate will require Bachmann to spend more time speaking to small groups and meeting voters one-on-one, rather than focusing on making television appearances and headlining Tea Party rallies.
Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa, said Bachmann “is up to that task, based on her record in the past of being an energetic campaigner.”
Scheffler, who isn’t yet backing any of his party’s White House contenders, said Bachmann “has a lot of potential here in Iowa because of her conservative message and her conservative track record.”
Bachmann’s announcement was a formality. She revealed her plans to run during a June 13 candidate debate in New Hampshire. She plans to return tomorrow to that state, which will hold the nation’s first primary next year.
Tea Party Backers
Her campaign strategy, Bachmann said in an April 29 Bloomberg News interview, is to marry support from social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina, another early primary state, with Tea Party backers in New Hampshire.
In Bachmann’s bid to win Iowa’s caucuses, which early next year kick off the 2012 nominating process, she will be counting on her appeal to Christian conservatives. In the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, 60 percent who attended described themselves to pollsters as born-again or evangelical Christians.
Bachmann was statistically tied with Romney in a poll of likely Republican caucus participants that the Des Moines Register published yesterday. Romney was preferred by 23 percent in the poll; Bachmann drew 22 percent; all other candidates were at least 12 points behind. The poll was conducted June 19-22 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
‘Never Been Rich’
“I like her because she relates to people,” said Debbie Bailey, 63, a retired customer service worker who was one of about 200 people who attended her announcement rally today. “She can relate to those of us who have never been rich.”
Bailey, who lives in Evansdale, Iowa, said she has never participated in the caucuses, though she is planning to do so for the 2012 campaign. She said she hasn’t decided who to support, though she likes Bachmann’s opposition to abortion.
Bachmann gave her speech in front of the Snowden House, an 1881 brick home that once hosted the Waterloo Women’s Club. The appearance, under sunshine, was periodically interrupted by honks from truckers motoring past on a nearby highway.
Bachmann’s immediate focus will be on the Iowa Republican Party’s Aug. 13 straw poll, an early test of each candidate’s Iowa organization. Bachmann has said she plans to compete in the event, a fundraiser for the party.
Her chances in Iowa were enhanced by Romney’s decision to make a more limited effort in the state than he did in his 2008 presidential run, when he finished second in the caucuses. Romney said earlier this month he plans to skip the straw poll, a contest he won in 2007 after spending about $2 million on television ads and busing thousands of supporters to the event.
Other Republicans gearing up for the straw poll include U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former pizza chain executive Herman Cain and Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, who has yet to declare whether he plans to enter the presidential race.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who was Obama’s ambassador to China, has said he doesn’t plan to compete in Iowa, citing his opposition to subsidies for corn-based ethanol as too much of a political hurdle in a state with a large agriculture base.
Bachmann will face an aggressive challenge in Iowa from Pawlenty, her fellow Minnesotan, who is scheduled to spend about 15 days campaigning in the state next month. Pawlenty, backed by 6 percent in the Register’s poll, started running television commercials on Iowa stations last week, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to air such ads.
While Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, hasn’t said yet whether she will seek her party’s 2012 presidential nomination, she will be in Pella, Iowa, tomorrow to attend the premiere of a documentary about her life called “The Undefeated.”
A knack for grabbing the spotlight helped catapult Bachmann from the Minnesota’s state Senate to Congress in 2006, and has fueled her national fundraising ability. She raised $13.6 million for her 2010 re-election, more than any other House candidate. Her style also has angered some fellow Republicans, who have accused her of not being a team player.
Bachmann’s sometimes inflammatory comments -- she suggested during the 2008 presidential campaign that Obama might have “anti-American views,” and recently compared the national debt to the Holocaust -- have raised questions about her ability to appear presidential. She also came under criticism in March, after she placed the first battle of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts.
“I don’t question the president’s patriotism at all,” Bachmann said yesterday on the CBS program “Face the Nation” when asked about the 2008 remarks. “There’s a lot of things I wish I would have said differently.”
Ken Martin, the state Democratic chairman in Minnesota, criticized Bachmann’s in a statement after her announcement.
“We know from her frequent mistakes when speaking about our country’s legacy that Michele Bachmann is fond of changing history,” Martin said. “The truth is, Representative Bachmann does not have a single success that she has delivered for Minnesotans -- just a long record of divisive rhetoric, extreme policy positions, hypocrisy and shameless self-promotion.”
Bachmann, whose family moved from Iowa to Minnesota during her childhood, received her law degree from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and worked as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service. She is the mother of five biological children and has taken in 23 foster kids, all girls. Along with her husband, she owns a Christian counseling clinic.
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer and Alex Wayne in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Bob Drummond
To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Waterloo, Iowa, at email@example.com
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