DES MOINES, Iowa — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann brought her tea party message and possible presidential ambitions to Iowa on Friday night, speaking before about 300 members of an influential anti-tax group that shares many of the Republican's views.
Bachmann was the keynote speaker at a reception in Des Moines by Iowans for Tax Relief, joining prominent Iowa Republicans including Rep. Steve King. The event came just weeks after Bachmann acknowledged she was considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination, a process that begins with the Iowa caucuses in February 2012.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Bachmann said she didn't want to focus on whether she would run for president, and her evening speech focused primarily on her message that massive debt is threatening the nation's very existence.
"This current crisis we're in is bigger than Democrats or Republicans," she told the anti-tax group. "Will America endure? Tonight I think the answer is in grave doubt."
Bachman did, however, acknowledge her native state's prominence in the presidential selection process.
"It is you who launch the first precinct of the 2012 race. It will be Iowans who make that decision. I feel like I know you. I was born here, I was raised here," said Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and lived there until moving as a child to neighboring Minnesota.
Ed Failor Jr., president of Iowans for Tax Relief, noted the group wasn't endorsing any potential presidential candidate, but he was excited about hosting Bachmann.
"We're an organization that has always believed that the status quo has failed us," Failor said. "Michele Bachmann is one of those people who says the status quo doesn't matter."
Bachmann also planned separate meetings with Iowa politicians, including Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican state House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. The meetings indicate she could be laying the groundwork for a caucus campaign.
"It shows she wants to be a serious player in the national debate," said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. "She's doing a fundraiser for a taxpayer group that's full of energized, enthused and active caucus goers. It sends a clear signal she wants in the debate."
Bachmann told the AP she came to Iowa to help focus the debate leading up to the next presidential election.
Chief among those issues is spending, she said. She argued that unless the U.S. dramatically reduces the size of government, it could face problems similar to Greece, where crushing debt has forced a bailout by other European countries. Most economists have said such a situation is extremely unlikely in the U.S., although they agree the country's debt problem is serious.
"A lot of countries got together to help Greece. If that happened to the United States — the world's largest economy — I don't know who would be there for us," Bachmann said.
The Iowa caucuses launch the presidential nominating process, offering intense media attention to the winner and often sinking candidacies of those who finish poorly. Barack Obama's surprising win in Iowa was seen as a key to his success in overcoming Hillary Clinton's advantages in name familiarity and fundraising to win the Democratic nomination.
But unlike 2008, potential candidates have so far spent less time in the state.
That could be changing. Besides Bachmann, possible candidates planning stops in Iowa in the next few weeks include former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Bachmann has agreed to return to Iowa in April to give a series of lectures as part of a forum organized by an evangelical Christian group that has invited a number of potential presidential candidates.
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