COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., thinks she might be in the wrong House.
She knows the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives is allowing her party to vote to cut spending and take the first steps toward reversing the Obama agenda.
But she also knows it's not enough, and is quick to tell party activists that they'll have to win the White House next year if they really want to change the government's course. And she thinks she might be just the one to do it.
Bachmann, a firebrand conservative, hasn't decided whether to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Still, she's already worked her way onto the national stage with a conservative message, a talent for grabbing the spotlight, and an appeal that resonates with tea party activists.
She gave her own response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address — which she labeled as the tea party address — and which appeared designed to rival the official Republican Party response. She was the keynote speaker at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. And she's touring the states that will kick off the Republican nomination contest next year, led by Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"I haven't made a decision either way if I am or I am not going to run, but the people of South Carolina are extremely important in this process," she said after speaking to a Republican women's group in Columbia recently. "So I want to acquaint them . . . with some of the issues and where I stand on them."
Republican activists greeted her warmly.
In Rock Hill, more than 100 showed up for her to headline a county fundraising dinner, then stayed to hear her speak by telephone when she was stuck in Washington voting on spending cuts. In Columbia, the women's group waited patiently when Bachmann was more than an hour late, then cheered her on.
"She knows what she's talking about. She comes across very well on television," said Margaret Blackwell of Lake Wylie, S.C.
"Polished . . . sophisticated," said Peggy Upchurch, a Republican from Lake Wylie, S.C. "She's not the crazy right-wing person I was led to believe."
Bachmann, 54, grew up in the Midwest, earned a law degree from Oral Roberts University, then an advanced law degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
She met her husband, Marcus, while both worked on the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976. Then her opposition to abortion helped lead her to the Republican Party. She voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
She and her husband, both born-again Christians, took in 23 teenage foster children over the years before having five children of their own. Her husband runs a Christian counseling service.
She gained fame in part by seizing on hot-button issues that appeal to cable TV, where she's a frequent guest. She's given to remarks some find inflammatory.
She once said the media should investigate the loyalty of members of Congress. She said that Obama might create "re-education camps" to indoctrinate young people. She repeated as fact an erroneous report that President Barack Obama's recent trip to India cost $200 million a day. She's said that FDR turned a "manageable" recession into the Great Depression.
Now she bases her appeal on her fervent opposition to Obama's agenda, particularly his health care law and his advocacy of more federal spending.
In South Carolina, she said that Obama has run up more debt than all the presidents before him combined. That's not true yet, but unless Obama and Congress act to change the budget outlook, it will be by the time he leaves office. About the only people pleased by all the debt, she said, are Chinese bankers who've lent the money to the U.S., and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"Hu's your daddy," she said to laughter.
She boasted of her House votes the night before to cut spending — as the only member of the House thinking of running for the nomination, she'd have some bragging rights in a Republican primary.
When she said the House had voted to take some money away from the enforcement of "the crown jewel of socialism, Obamacare," she got a standing ovation.
That brought her back to her main reason for visiting South Carolina.
While the Republican House can vote to defund small parts of the health care law, she said much of it's on autopilot, and that it will take a vote of a Republican Congress and the signature of a Republican president to stop it.
"We have got one chance to get rid of Obamacare. In 2012, we have that opportunity to end this nonsense," she said. "We've got to win back the White House."
She said she might not decide whether to run until this summer, meaning she could miss the GOP candidates' debate in South Carolina on May 5. "There will be a number of debates," she said. "This is a very long period of time that we're looking at. And I think there will be sufficient time. . . . I can't make a decision until I know that I know that I know that it's the right decision to make."
Finally, she urged voters in South Carolina and other early voting states to think hard about their choice.
"You will decide who our nominee is," she said. "You can't get it wrong this time."
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McClatchy Newspapers 2011