COLUMBIA, South Carolina – Michele Bachmann said she didn't get much sleep after a House vote
slashed programs and cut spending. But the GOP House member and tea party heroine was energized as she was greeted by standing ovations at a gathering of the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women on Saturday.
"I come from the land of Al Franken, a tough neighborhood," the Minnesota congresswoman told the crowd of close to 200. "I'm in heaven."
Though the cuts to current federal spending have been totaled as $61 billion, Bachmann put the figure at $100 billion. She ticked off defunding the discretionary funding portion of "Obamacare," as she called health care legislation, and cutting off money for NPR, cap and trade programs and Planned Parenthood
. "I was extremely excited about that one," she said of the last on her list.
Bachmann heaped praise on South Carolina, where Republicans control the congressional delegation, the governor's office and the statehouse, and she embraced the state's strong tea party presence. "You made a difference," she said. "We heard from people from all across America, but particularly in South Carolina where the tea party is very strong."
Speaking in this first-in-the-south presidential primary state, Bachmann looked forward to a Republican "triple crown" in 2012: a chance to build on the GOP takeover of the House by winning the Senate with "Jim DeMint clones" and taking back "this address called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave." She said that's the best way to turn back the debt and deficits and what she called "the crown jewel of socialism," health care reform legislation.
"I haven't made a decision either way if I am or I am not going to run, but the people of South Carolina are extremely important in this process," she said later. "I want to acquaint them with some of the issues and where I stand on them."
Bachmann, in fact, took special pains not to step on any Southern toes, prefacing a complimentary remark about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War Republican president, with, "I know I'm taking a risk in South Carolina."
Rep. Joe Wilson introduced Bachmann on Saturday as "one of the most courageous conservatives" in the capital and she returned the compliment. "He is a big favorite of all of us in Washington, D.C.," she said.
While the South Carolina congressman's yell of "you lie"
during President Obama's 2009 speech on health care reform (what some supporters call "the incident") may be infamous in certain circles, it's part of his appeal in the state where he was re-elected, and where his son Alan was just elected attorney general. Bachman joked that Wilson thought "he was watching the State of the Union on TV."
Wilson pumped every hand in the room on his way to the stage and told me he was "thrilled" by the House budget vote. "I believe our country's in crisis," he said.
Though Bachmann said, "I didn't come here to be Debbie Downer in a dark blue dress," she also sounded dire warnings about "whether the United States the way we know it will survive."
The former tax litigator said the country should "completely scrap our current tax code" and "start over." Bachmann called union workers in Wisconsin "hard-working people," but said she supported Gov. Scott Walker's tough stance on cost cutting
and collective-bargaining rules. "Don't tell me about these starvation cuts," she said. "These are must-do."
In this socially conservative state, Bachmann also talked about the importance of religion, morality and virtue. It's "considered hate speech if we speak according to the tenets of our faith," she said. Her words resonated among many in a room where the luncheon prayer asked the Lord to choose "the very best candidate for president" so Republicans can "take our country back."
The women who had come from across the state lined up for photographs with Bachmann, the famous congresswoman, but aren't quite sold on Bachmann the presidential candidate – not yet, anyway.
"We need the enthusiasm and she's got it," said Connie Samuel, a tea party activist from Waterloo, South Carolina. "I hope she has the background to carry it through." Samuel is also a big fan of Sarah Palin but told me she wished the former governor of Alaska had stayed for her full term in office. She thinks Palin may run for president but hopes she doesn't. "I don't think she can win."
The president of the Spartanburg County Republican Women, Carole Self, worked for years as the Spartanburg clerk, so she can't bring herself to condemn government and what it can do. "Some days I have good feelings, some days bad." Jane Johnson, the group's treasurer, is a fiscal conservative, but the retired academic librarian doesn't believe the party should get involved in social issues. "I'm not like most Southerners that way," she said.
Sonny Googins, a retired state legislator from Connecticut, is becoming more politically active in Beaufort County, North Carolina, where she now lives. She was sitting at a table of transplants from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts and Georgia. Googins thinks they can transform the Republican Party in South Carolina.
Googins, 74, said it's enlightening and "very refreshing" to be in a state where you have a Republican majority. But she lamented the lack of diversity in the room. "There are no black people here, except you," she said. Opening up the party has to "become part of an effort of things we give a damn about," she said. Googins was "delighted" to see and hear from Bachmann, and she was interested in hearing what other potential candidates and Republican names had to say.
She and other South Carolinians will have that chance.
The state's conservative bona-fides and presidential primary status have lured Sarah Palin, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Jon Huntsman of Utah, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and others. Former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle
stopped by on Friday, and on Monday and Tuesday former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania plans to visit a Christian school, anti-abortion center and state party leaders.
Bachmann surely will return, as well. "A GOP paradise," she said, "that's what South Carolina is."
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