Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann brought her tea party message and possible presidential ambitions to Iowa on Friday night, speaking before about 300 members of an influential anti-tax group that shares many of the Republican's views.
Bachmann claimed that "America is under a greater attack now that ever before," due to runaway government debt.
Bachmann, who represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, issued the dire warning while speaking in Des Moines to the group Iowans for Tax Relief. It was her first Iowa appearance since reports of her possible interest in running for president in 2012.
The meeting room in a downtown hotel was packed with voters and media, waiting to hear what Bachmann would say in the state where Republican presidential hopefuls will spend a lot of time over the next 12 months.
Bachmann didn't clarify her political intentions, but she repeatedly warned that the country is in peril due to red ink in Washington. She also suggested that America's endurance is in doubt.
"The iceberg is straight in front of us. We can all see this iceberg. And we, like fools, are pointing the ship directly into it," said Bachmann. "But we can turn. We can turn, and it is us who can make that turn happen."
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Bachmann spoke at length about her family roots in Iowa, noting that she was born in Waterloo, and praised all immigrants for their sacrifices and contributions.
Bachmann insisted she wasn't in Des Moines for a political speech, but she soon returned to her familiar criticism of President Obama over health care and government bailouts.
"Just like we repealed [Democratic House] Speaker Pelosi in 2010, it will be our charge to repeal a President Obama in 2012 and a very liberal Senate in 2012," said Bachmann, "and instead put in place a bold, strong constitutional conservative for president, who understands the times and knows what to do, and has the courage and fortitude to make it happen."
Bachmann's nearly 45-minute speech was warmly received by the crowd. The Iowa caucuses are a year away, but GOP voters here are already taking a look at the potential candidates. Roger Rowland of West Des Moines said he came to learn more about Bachmann, and he liked what he heard.
"I would say it was more of an inspirational speech than a political speech," he said. "Certainly interwoven with political observations and comments and thoughts, but the emphasis was on being an inspirational speech. I enjoyed it."
Larry Meredith of Ankeny said he likes Bachman, because she lets people know what she thinks. Meredith said he thinks it would be great if she ran for president.
"I think within six or eight weeks we're going to have a lot of them coming through here. She might just as well be one of the first and get some support," said Meredith.
There were also a few critics on hand. Sam Roecker, a spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party, said Bachmann gave a standard political speech.
"She clearly stuck to her usual attack lines against Democrats and the president. I think if you look at the record and get beyond her rhetoric, you really see that Democrats and President Obama have done a tremendous job of running this country over the past two years," said Roecker.
Bachmann also planned separate meetings with Iowa politicians, including Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican state House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. The meetings indicate she could be laying the groundwork for a caucus campaign.
"It shows she wants to be a serious player in the national debate," said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. "She's doing a fundraiser for a taxpayer group that's full of energized, enthused and active caucus goers. It sends a clear signal she wants in the debate."
Bachmann has agreed to return to Iowa in April to give a series of lectures as part of a forum organized by an evangelical Christian group that has invited a number of potential presidential candidates.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another potential 2012 presidential candidate, has several Iowa book signings scheduled at the end of the month.
(The AP's Mike Glover contributed to this report)