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In Iowa, Bachmann officially begins campaign

Michele Bachmann formally kicked off her campaign for president Monday in the town of her birth, a Minnesota congresswoman seeking to parlay her Iowa roots and socially conservative credentials into a successful run for the GOP nomination.

“I seek the presidency not for vanity, but because America is at a crucial moment,” Bachmann said, speaking to supporters and reporters on the lawn of the Snowden House, a historic Victorian mansion not far from where she was born. “I believe that we must make a bold choice if we are to secure the promise of our future.”

The announcement was a formality; she declared during a June 13 debate that she had filed paperwork for a run. But the decision to announce in Iowa, where Bachmann lived until age 12, rather than in the neighboring state where she resides and which elected her to Congress, served to emphasize the importance of the Hawkeye State.

A strong showing in the caucuses here, the first scheduled voting in the 2012 race, is vital for Bachmann’s chances. The “tea party” favorite, 55, has repeatedly emphasized her Iowa roots on a two-day swing through the state: visiting the house where she grew up and the church where she was baptized, and talking about how she wept when her mother told her they had to move to Minnesota because of her father’s career.

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A Bachmann radio ad that ran in Iowa last week proclaimed that for her, the state “will always be home,” and she hosted a homecoming party Sunday where she implored attendees to support her at the Ames straw poll in August, an early organizing test of the GOP field.

“I need you,” she told hundreds of people at the National Cattle Congress on Sunday as they dined on pulled-pork sandwiches and macaroni salad. “I came here because it’s all about Iowa.”

The timing of her visit was fortuitous. On Sunday, a Des Moines Register poll of likely GOP caucus-goers showed her in a statistical tie with national front-runner Mitt Romney. Bachmann’s goal is to position herself as the race’s anti-Romney.

Although her candidacy is piquing the interest of voters, her campaign is still in its infancy. Competitors, notably former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have been campaigning hard here for months and have extensive teams in place.

“Bachmann’s got buzz right now, but Pawlenty has got organization,” said Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa.

Bachmann’s success may also rest on the decisions of two politicians who are flirting with runs and would appeal to the kind of voters drawn to Bachmann — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

On Tuesday, Palin will attend the Pella, Iowa, premiere of a movie about her governorship. Palin on Monday brushed aside a media report that she planned to meet with influential political figures while in the state.

Bachmann’s popularity has risen in Iowa as Palin’s has fallen — the Register poll found that 12% of GOP voters had an unfavorable view of Bachmann, while 37% hold such a view of Palin.

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Still, they would clearly be competing for many of the same voters, such as Carole Deeds, a Waterloo real estate agent who said she had not decided whom to support.

Deeds attended both of Bachmann’s Waterloo events and came away impressed with her personal story and her calls to rein in government spending and reach, which Deeds said was leading to near enslavement for the nation’s citizenry.

“She sends a real strong message,” Deeds said. “That message is just like Sarah Palin.”

In her announcement speech, Bachman ignored her GOP rivals to focus on President Obama, blaming him for the nation’s growing debt, skewering his signature healthcare overhaul and saying he has failed to turn the economy around.

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“We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama,” Bachmann said.

The Obama campaign responded by linking Bachmann to Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s budget plan that would transform Medicare into a private voucher program. Bachmann voted for the plan, which would also reduce the upper-tier tax rate for wealthier Americans.

“Congresswoman Bachmann talks about reclaiming the American dream, but her policies would erode the path to prosperity for middle-class families,” Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said in a statement.

Bachmann is expected to benefit in Iowa from her ties to the state’s influential evangelical voters, and her stature in the race grew recently with her strong debate performance this month. That followed months in which she was better known for gaffes, such as her suggestion that the Revolutionary War began in New Hampshire and not in Massachusetts.

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But on Monday she stumbled anew when, in two television interviews, she spoke of actor John Wayne as a fellow Waterloo native. “That’s the kind of spirit that I have too,” Bachmann told Fox News.

Wayne is a native Iowan, but he was born about 150 miles away. However, Wayne’s parents were onetime residents of Waterloo, as was serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who killed more than 30 people in Illinois.

seema.mehta@latimes.com


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