There are many ways to get a crowd riled up in New Hampshire, but Michele Bachmann cut to the chase in her first Granite State appearance as a presidential candidate Tuesday.
“Live free or die!” she shouted into the microphone as she stepped on stage—bringing many in the crowd to their feet.
A day after her debut as a 2012 contender in Iowa--where she surged to the top of the field in a Des Moines Register poll released this weekend--the fiery Minnesota congresswoman drew some 300 people to the small, wooded town of Raymond, about 22 miles from New Hampshire’s coast. She followed her opener (New Hampshire’s state motto) by leading the crowd in a chant declaring Barack Obama a one-term president and went on to mock him for “leading from behind” and ridicule his use of a teleprompter.
“President Bachmann will be banning the teleprompter at the White House,” the candidate said to laughter. “You’ll be getting uncut, uncensored--you’ll be getting the unvarnished truth out of the White House because that’s what the American people deserve.”
The event on a spacious lawn beside a yellow house ringed by trees had been billed as a “backyard chat.” But Bachmann’s aides set up stage lights, two press risers, loudspeakers and blue-and-white shade tents that perfectly framed the camera shots with the candidate's new logo. Hurried young men in sunglasses and dark suits with earpieces (similar to those worn by the Secret Service) were spotted on the lawn, some waving guests into the event and directing everyone to check in at a volunteer table.
Bachmann’s remarks were filled with homespun flourishes filling out her image as a regular gal from the Midwest. Growing up with three brothers--“the best preparation for politics any girl could have,” she said—they tied their own fishing lures and “reloaded our own shotgun shells.”
“I had my gun safety class when I was 12--go 2nd Amendment!” she said to cheers. When she noted in answer to a question about climate change that she is a concealed carry permit, one man roared “Yeah!” in approval.
Here in flinty, fiscally conservative New Hampshire, Bachmann focused her remarks mainly on curbing federal spending--telling a vague story about legislation she voted against that paid for services for “foreign” cats and dogs (which drew head shaking) to the fiscal toll of Afghanistan on “war-weary” Americans.
Her outlook on fiscal matters, she explained, comes from the fact that both she and her husband Marcus were from families of modest means. His work on his family’s dairy farm from dawn until bedtime, she said, shaped his work ethic. As a young couple working their way through college, she said, they visited elderly people in nursing homes because they didn’t have money for movies or restaurants.
(“Well, I didn’t tell you what we did afterwards,” she said as an aside. “You know, we do have red blood in us, what can I say—the kids won’t appreciate that mom said that.”)
Their life, she continued, “has always been about scrimping, saving.”
“Having all the kids we had”—five children and 23 foster children—“we really had to stretch every dollar we had. So you can imagine my shock when I went to Washington, D.C., and saw how the members of Congress spend your money hand over fist.”
In Congress, Bachmann said she’d represented “the voice and the values and the character and the morals of common-sense people across America who work for a living.”
And in a state where independents could play a key role casting ballots in the Republican primary, Bachmann also took care to distance herself from the Republican Party: “I take on the opposition party, but I take on my own party as well, because I believe it is principle over party.”
Nearly every mention of the “"tea party"” drew cheers, and Bachmann described herself as part of that movement—complaining that those voters had been miscast as the “right wing fringe of the party,” but were actually independents, libertarians, disaffected Democrats and conservatives who were “not going to let this president take the nation down.” A man in the crowd waved a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag appreciatively.
During a 30-minute question-and-answer session, the former tax attorney offered words of comfort and asked to shake the hand of a man who said his son died from a drug overdose. Later, she told a “lovely libertarian” that his idea for jump-starting the economy by suspending the federal income tax for a year was “awesome.”
As the event wound down with patriotic marching band music, Bachmann slipped off her black strappy heels and shook hands in stocking feet until the crowd had dwindled to a few. Her husband stood protectively behind her, his hand on her waist as she leaned down from the stage for hugs and snapshots.
Bill and Linda Condon of Barrington, who volunteered for 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, left the event carrying Bachmann’s stickers and yard signs even though they are still deciding between the Minnesota congresswoman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
When asked about the party’s national front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bill Condon, 67, made a face: “He’s the true politician: polished, slick; I call him a used car salesman.”
“She’s real--not even a teleprompter.”