WASHINGTON - After months of shunning cameras and interviews, Michele Bachmann returned to the spotlight Saturday for a speech before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that sought to soften the edges of her brand of conservatism, recasting it as a "movement of love, movement of care."
The 6th District Congresswoman's near-total silence since her narrow re-election victory in November has been striking. She was once a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination and a regular presence on talk radio, the Sunday political shows and Fox News.
Following last November's poor showing for Republicans across the board, many in the party are trying to reframe the party's message to show that the GOP's policies are relevant to more than the just the affluent and socially conservative. On stage, Bachmann, herself an ardent culture warrior, tried something similar.
"Who is it in your life that you can think of that really does care about you?" she asked to a packed ballroom of activists.
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"It is this movement that's representative in this room all across the country," Bachmann answered.
Still, with references to the importance of the family and her commitment to outlawing abortion, Bachmann didn't stray from her past positions.
Bachmann also didn't neglect her favorite rhetorical foil: President Barack Obama.
She criticized him at length for what she described as failures of leadership ranging from Obama's handling of the terror attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya last year to profligate spending on White House staff, including projectionists for a private cinema in the residence.
"Can't they just press the play button?" Bachmann joked.
Bachmann also spoke at length about the virtues of government-backed medical research such as the polio vaccine and said the federal government wasn't doing enough to fight diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. The National Institutes of Health budget in 2013 is nearly $31 billion; by comparison the National Science Foundation, which funds non-medical science and engineering research, has a budget of $7.4 billion.
Bachmann's re-emergence into the spotlight comes at a time when her future political ambitions remain cloudy. Although once mentioned as a potential U.S. Senate candidate to challenge Democrat Al Franken in 2014, polls suggest a steep uphill climb for Bachmann in a statewide race. She has not announced yet whether she intends to run again for Congress in the 6th District even as her former challenger, DFLer Jim Graves, inches toward another run with the support of national Democrats.