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Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published August 08 2011

Bachmann works Iowa: ‘These are my roots’

OSKALOOSA, Iowa — Michele Bachmann told a southern Iowa Republican crowd just what it wanted to hear.

From her opening shout of “good evening, Oskaloosa, how are you?” to her final “in 2012, trust me, we are going to get it all back, we are going to take our country back,” the Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota congresswoman kept the audience at William Penn University on her side.

After her 57-minute speech, most of the 140 people there went to the front and had a picture snapped with the U.S. House Tea Party Caucus leader.

Bachmann’s rhetoric fired up the crowd, working to a crescendo as she ended her speech:

“With peace-through-strength conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, the tea party movement ... we have a chance of a lifetime to be that team that can’t be beat if we stick together,” she said. “I think this election is going to be a wave election that is going to change this country, perhaps even more phenomenally than even Ronald Reagan changed it in the early 1980s.”

With an ending like that, Bachmann left no doubt she is looking or conservative votes, conservatives who traditionally turn out in large numbers at Iowa’s presidential caucuses and the Aug. 13 Ames straw poll that likely will provide a boost to candidates who do well and could end campaigns of those who fall short.

Bachmann is a nationally known and often controversial figure but one supporters say thinks like they do.

“She always votes common sense,” Jane Hodoly of Ottumwa said while awaiting Bachmann’s speech in Oskaloosa.

Constance Cavanaugh, also from Ottumwa, about 20 miles south of Oskaloosa, said Bachmann talks about issues that concern her.

In her speech, Bachmann hit about 20 issues important to conservative Republicans.

The 55-year-old diminutive congresswoman delivered the nearly hourlong speech without notes, flowing seamlessly from topic to topic. Her voice ranged from shouts to an attention-getting whisper, punctuated by her well-known wide range of facial expressions.

Bachmann lashed out at Democratic President Barack Obama but made no mention of her Republican presidential opponents.

She often reminded her Iowa audience that she is an Iowan by birth, intertwining her personal story with talk of major policy issues.

“These are my roots,” Bachmann said. “I tell everyone that everything I need to know I learned in Iowa.”

Bachmann grew up in Waterloo, in the northern part of the state, moving with her family to the Twin Cities when she was in sixth grade and her father landed a job at Honeywell.

A year later, her parents split, and “when they were divorced, our family went to under poverty overnight.”

She told about taking in unwed mothers soon after she was married and hosting 23 foster children in addition to raising five children of her own.

With those experiences, not always good memories, she learned a lot. “If you are willing to learn through that time, it can actually make us better,” she said.

She talked of her fight to reform education: “I was Pollyanna enough to believe you can fight city hall.”

Bachmann told those who had paid $15 each to attend the event that Obama is failing Americans. Nowhere is that more evident than health care changes he shepherded through Congress, she said. The recent debt talks also are an example, she added.

“We have just watched the president steal a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare when we can least afford it,” Bachmann said in her typical no-holds-barred style.

Americans cannot afford that, she said, because their pockets are nearly empty with only “a little lint and feathers and maybe a dime or two.”

From health care, Bachmann seamlessly transitioned into foreign affairs.

“There are people who wake up every single day thinking about how they can kill Americans,” Bachmann said. “We can never lose sight of that.”

The congressional Tea Party Caucus leader kept returning to federal spending and taxes and saved most of her disgust for Obama.

“His goals have nothing to do with what people in Oskaloosa, Iowa, see as your goals,” she said. “Why? Because I know you. I am one of you. I was born here. I grew up here. I was taught by reasonable and fair-minded people of Iowa.”

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Michele Bachmann