U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., wrapped up her first trip to New Hampshire as a possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate over the weekend.
Like Republicans across the country, most of the GOP faithful in New Hampshire have heard of Bachmann, but last weekend was the first time they got a chance at an up close look. And most said they liked what they saw.
"Thank you, New Hampshire," said Bachmann at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of New Hampshire just outside of Manchester on Saturday morning.
"You're considered stoic, independent, blunt speaking people," said Bachmann. "I fancy myself one of you so I hope we can get along together."
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As she often does speaking on TV and radio and in person around the country, at her various events in New Hamshire, Bachmann ripped the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress, blaming them for increases in the national debt. She argued that the country is worse off now than it was before President Barack Obama took office.
She rallied Republicans not only to retain control of the U.S. House, but to take control of the Senate and win the White House in 2012.
"I know we can do it," said Bachmann. "And so I ask you, are you in for 2012? I'm in. Are you in?"
Bachmann told reporters a lot of people are encouraging her to run for president. She said her "I'm in" line was not a campaign announcement, and instead showed her commitment to help Republicans defeat Obama next year.
At a separate tea party fundraiser, Bachmann delivered an almost identical message and fawned over her admiring audience.
"I love New Hampshire; live free or die!" exclaimed Bachmann.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has also referenced New Hampshire's state motto in his speeches here. Unlike Bachmann, Pawlenty has become a familiar face to New Hampshire Republican insiders. For more than a year, he's been working hard to raise his profile in the state that the holds the first presidential primary.
Tom Lamy of Dover was one of about 75 people at Bachmann's tea party fundraiser. Lamy paid $100 for a good seat. He saw Pawlenty at a picnic last summer. He said he thinks Bachmann comes across as more authentic.
"Very geninue, down-to-earth, very easy to talk to," said Lamy. "And I found that I liked her very, very much."
THE BACHMANN-PALIN CONNECTION
Many think Bachmann is in a good position to pick up fans of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin if Palin decides not to run in 2012. Bachmann is often compared to Palin and both draw their most energetic support from tea party groups.
University of New Hampshire political scientist Danta Scala said Bachmann doesn't need to operate in the shadows of Palin.
"I think she could be potentially more than the 'poor man's Sarah Palin' which she usually is cast as by the national media, because she's at least as well versed on issues of importance to conservatives as Palin is and she can perhaps deliver as much verve on the stump as Palin could," said Scala.
Scala suspects Bachmann's interest in the GOP nominating battle has more to do with building her national profile and changing the Republican party over the long term than actually winning.
"She could be in it to move the movement forward," said Scala. "And that could make her something of a wild card."
Scala said although tea party activists are vocal, only about 15 percent of New Hampshire Republicans identify themselves with the movement, meaning it would be difficult for a tea party candidate to win the primary there.
Still, Scala said Bachmann would almost certainly hurt Pawlenty if both run.
Pawlenty associates were observing at least three of Bachmann's four events on Saturday.
Even though it was only her first time in New Hampshire as a prospective candidate, Bachmann chose to move beyond insiders with a stop at a country store. She posed for pictures, autographed Bachmann baseball cards for a couple of kids and sure looked like she was running for something.
On the way out of the store, a local Republican lawmaker offered to mail Bachmann and her husband some of the maple syrup sold there. Marcus Bachmann said thanks, but said it wouldn't be necessary because they would certainly be back to pick more up of their own.