WATERLOO, Iowa - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, the one-time Stillwater school activist who catapulted to national prominence as a hard-charging tea party critic of President Barack Obama, officially launched her campaign for the White House on Monday in Waterloo with a speech outlining her vision of a national government that does "its job, not our jobs."Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd on the front lawn of the historic Snowden House in the city where she was born, Bachmann said the American people, not the government, hold the solutions to the nation's problems."As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the Founding Fathers' vision of a limited government that trusts in and perceives the unlimited potential of you, the American people," she said as the clouds cleared and the sun shone down on a classic Iowa political gathering.The founder of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, the three-term 6th District congresswoman has often been a thorn in the side of old-guard Republicans.Indeed, radio talk show host Jason Lewis introduced her at Monday's event as the "original tea party patriot who has been bashing the party establishment her entire life."But Bachmann portrayed herself as the leader of a growing movement that is made up of three major GOP factions: fiscal, social and "peace-through-strength" conservatives. "And I am one of those," she said after naming each group."And it is made up of the tea party movement, and I am one of those," she said, insisting the movement isn't a fringe group but rather patriotic Americans from across the political spectrum "who simply want to get America back on the right track again."Aside from promising to preserve and protect families, Bachmann didn't spell out in much detail her vision for the nation.Instead she delivered one of her trademark, high-energy attacks on Obama.She said the nation can't afford four more years of soaring debt, low pay and high unemployment, sinking housing values, a health care law that will "cost us too much and deliver so little" and a president "who doesn't stand up for our friends, like Israel."
"We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama," she told the cheering crowd.That's the kind of red-meat rhetoric that tea party activist Heather Miller said she drove from Chicago to hear."I'm excited about her because she's a strong conservative female. She fires up a crowd, and she fully supports what's she's saying," Miller said.But Kay Lawson, who drove an hour from Manchester, Iowa, to see the candidate at a Sunday night rally, may be more typical of Iowa caucus-goers."I'm just sizing her up," she said.
Lawson said she has donated money to Bachmann's campaign and likes her "down-to-earth, energetic style," but she's waiting to see which GOP candidate stands the best chance of defeating Obama."That's the most important thing to me," Lawson said.Although she officially declared her candidacy Monday, Bachmann, 55, the first woman to enter the race, has spent several months visiting early primary states, raising money and railing against Obama.After the formal Iowa kickoff, she's headed on a two-day swing through New Hampshire and South Carolina, other early voting states. She intends to return to Iowa this weekend.She mentioned Iowa six times in the first six minutes of her speech, and she could have a big impact in her home state, the starting gate in the race for the GOP nomination.Not only will she press her Hawkeye state roots, but as an evangelical Christian, she also appeals to the social conservatives who have dominated the Iowa caucuses in recent years. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, upset Mitt Romney, the establishment favorite, in the 2008 caucuses.
Bachmann's campaign also will test the tea party's strength in the state. Anti-establishment conservatives upset Republican incumbents across the nation last year, and the congresswoman's fate may rest on whether that wave rolls on next year.Romney, the GOP frontrunner in national polls, has pulled out of the Iowa Republican straw poll in Ames on Aug. 13, a critical early test in the state. His absence gives Bachmann an early opportunity to break out of the pack as the alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.She virtually tied Romney in a Des Moines Register poll, released over the weekend, of likely Republican caucus-goers. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who formally announced his candidacy last month in Des Moines and has been spending much of his time and money in Iowa, placed sixth in that survey.The Ames straw poll will be Bachmann's first head-to-head contest with Pawlenty. Other GOP contenders in Iowa are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain.Bachmann has already demonstrated she can hold her own. With her charismatic style, she has enlisted an unusually enthusiastic following, as well as an army of small-dollar donors who contributed $13.5 million to her 2010 congressional race, the most expensive in the nation.She got a big bump in her national approval ratings this month after a widely praised GOP debate performance in New Hampshire. Her favorable ratings among Republicans jumped from 41 percent to 54 percent after that nationally televised event, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.But she is also a highly polarizing politician, demonized by the left primarily for anti-gay marriage crusades and a tendency to make big gaffes, such as when she suggested Obama held "anti-American" views.A former tax attorney, mother of five and foster parent to 23 girls, Bachmann dove into politics to oppose Minnesota's Profile of Learning standards that were widely opposed. She ran unsuccessfully for the Stillwater School Board before being elected to the state Senate in 2000. She served there for six years and is now in her third term in Congress."I didn't seek public office for power or fortune but simply to make life better in our community and our public schools better for our children," Bachmann said Monday. "And now 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're to secure the promise of our future."The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bill Salisbury can be reached at 651-228-5539.