Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann kicked off the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, with a fiery speech Thursday morning that was heavy on criticism of President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Bachmann is considering a run for president next year, and she urged conservatives to unite to defeat Democrats in 2012. Minnesota's other possible presidential contender, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, will be at the same podium on Friday.
Bachmann, who represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, used much of her keynote address to recount the GOP's many victories in last year's mid-term elections and to look ahead to 2012.
The conference, known as CPAC, is the nation's largest annual gathering of conservatives, drawing an estimated 11,000 people. The audience is a mix of those concerned most about social issues such as same-sex marriage, and people who are focused on the national debt and national security.
Bachmann called on them to unite.
"For our conservative coalition to be victorious in 2012 it will take every one of us, and then some, pulling together to bring the three legs of this conservative stool together," said Bachmann. "The fiscal conservative leg, the national security leg and the social conservative leg to work together. We cannot shun each other for 2012."
Although Bachmann reached out to all of the factions of the conservative movement, she had little in the way of specifics to say about social issues or foreign policy. Instead she focused on the growing national debt, blaming Democrats and referring to a "tax and spend Obama agenda."
Bachmann said if Republicans are unable to gain more power next year, opponents of the Democratic-sponsored health care overhaul could lose their chance to repeal the legislation.
Bachmann confidently spoke about Republicans' prospects in 2012.
"I believe that you are filled with excitement. I believe you are motivated for 2012," she said. "I believe, like you, that we need to win the triple crown of 2012 -- which is holding on to the House of Representatives, winning a conservative Senate and, oh yeah, baby, winning the White House in 2012."
Bachmann repeatedly urged her audience to stand up and applaud during her speech, and many of those in the room enthusiastically followed her direction.
Among the Bachmann fans was Martha Stamp from Wakefield Rhode Island.
"I thought it was absolutely wonderful," said Stamp, referring to Bachmann's speech.
Stamp said she's most concerned about the economy and national security. She said she trusts Bachmann and would like to see her at the top of a 2012 GOP ticket, or as a candidate for vice president.
"She's a real person. You can trust her," said Stamp. "She means what she says, and she's not going to deviate from that. It's refreshing to see people who actually mean what they say and do it."
But not everyone in the audience was impressed. Joey Kalmin said he doesn't like Bachmann's political style.
"I'm not a big fan of her," said Kalmin, who's from suburban Chicago and attends the University of Maryland.
Kalmin said he thought Bachmann on a GOP presidential ticket would guarantee a second term for Obama.
"I think she's a bit extreme. She consistently, I feel, gets facts wrong," he said. "I think she caters to anti-intellectualism, and she caters to the anger of people. And everyone has anger, but anger is the irrational part. We have to learn to control that part. And I think she caters to it and doesn't let people think rationally."
Kalmin said he is supporting Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for president.
But judging from the response to Bachmann at CPAC, Kalmin was in the minority.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to the CPAC crowd on Friday. Political analysts say a challenge for Pawlenty will be to go beyond listing his conservative credentials to actually firing up the crowd, as Bachmann did.
Even though Pawlenty has been laying the groundwork for a presidential bid for more than a year, some analysts think Bachmann may do better than Pawlenty in the CPAC straw poll when the votes are counted Saturday.
A spokesman for the national Democratic Party declined to comment about Bachmann's speech. Minnesota DFL Party spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie said Bachmann was rehashing political battles of the past, and offered no new ideas about job creation or specifics to improve health care and the economy.