FLORENCE, SC — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is in a tough spot. On the one hand, polls are showing her unlikely presidential candidacy is catching on, at least in Iowa, and she needs to keep that momentum going by expanding her base of support among the various Republican groups here. On the other, Bachmann needs to keep stoking the tea party fire that’s gotten her as far as it has.
Speaking to a small audience of true believers and curious visitors in the Palmetto State Thursday, Bachmann made it clear that she’s putting her emphasis on the latter goal. In her stump speech, Bachmann offered up an unambiguous call for the dismantling of the federal Department of Education as well as the legislation that created it, which she called “unconstitutional.” (She said she’d eliminate the EPA, too, a common refrain among Republicans these days.)
Bachmann said she’s a GOP uniter, linking fiscal, social, national security and “tea party conservatives” in one candidate. But unaffiliated GOP operatives in South Carolina say that the way she’s talking on the trail is not likely to bring together Palmetto Republicans, and that could spell big trouble for her campaign here.
The political professionals said they expect Texas Gov. Rick Perry to suck up most of Bachmann’s oxygen in South Carolina. They said Perry’s got a strong campaign here already, and the years of executive experience that might get the more establishment-type GOP to give him a look.
Bachmann’s also trying to reach out to that group, offering up a speech in Florence that stressed her position on the House Intelligence Committee.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t think about how they’re going to kill Americans today,” Bachmann said. “There also isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t try to figure out how to destroy the United States.”
She said she’s “just as worried” about foreign policy threats to the US as she is about the economy, which she said would be fixed with a bunch of cutting, and balancing the budget.
Those in the room certainly seemed moved.
“I’ve had my reservations about a woman, but I think she can really win,” Delores Boysia, a tea party activist from Florence. Boysia explained that in the past, she thought America “wasn’t ready to elect a woman president,” but Bachmann’s success so far proves those days are over.
Another activist in the audience, Florence tea party organizer Murray Gordon, told TPM that his focus is on electability. “I’m for whomever can beat Obama,” he said, adding, “I hope that Michele Bachmann can be that person.”
Neither audience member said they knew enough about Perry to make a decision about him yet. And, for now, it’s clear Bachmann thinks that fact is her greatest asset. Asked about the Texas governor at a press availability after the Florence speech, Bachmann said, “I welcome all candidates into this race” and then proceeded to tick off all the times she’s been coming to South Carolina as if to show she’s been with the Republicans here long before Perry decided to make his presidential announcement in Charleston.
This is a retail state, and popping up often and shaking a lot of hands goes a long way. But with Bachmann continuing to push the tea partiest part of her message hard, all her appearances may not be enough.
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