2012 contender Bachmann seeks to broaden appeal

By Jim Davenport

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Aug. 20 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2011, file photo Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks to supporters in Spartanburg, S.C.

Richard Shiro, File, Associated Press

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Pigeonholed as a right-wing disciple, Michele Bachmann is offering herself as a presidential candidate who can unite the GOP's disparate base and appeal to Republicans of all ideological stripes.

"Fiscal conservatives — I'm one of those. National security conservatives — I'm one of those. Social conservatives — I'm one of those. And the tea party — I'm one of those," the Minnesota congresswoman said repeatedly in South Carolina this past week.

The line, now standard fare as she visits early primary states, provides a window into her strategy of selling herself as more than just a social conservative crusader.

Bachmann's ability to overtake rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in the GOP nomination contest may depend on whether she can attract support beyond her core evangelical and tea party constituencies, which gravitate toward her strong stances on cultural issues.

But this year, economic concerns clearly rate above many others with most voters. If she wins the party nod, she will have to court moderates and independents as well as conservatives.

Throughout her political career, Bachmann has fiercely guarded and worked to bolster her social conservative reputation.

She has had a 100 percent rating from the influential American Conservative Union during her nearly five years in Congress, based on her voting record. Over the past few years, she rode the wave of the rising tea party and used her frequent TV appearances to stoke a national image as a favorite of the right.

As a candidate, Bachmann isn't eager to revisit her past controversial statements even though Democratic and Republican rivals alike use them to paint her as a fringe Republican in the race to challenge President Barack Obama.

During a recent debate, she deftly handled a question about a past remark cited the Bible as instructing wives to be "submissive to your husbands." In a measured tone, she explained it was about showing mutual respect.

A few days later, Bachmann faced tough questions on the Sunday national news shows about previous statements, including a comment about the gay lifestyle being one of "personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement." Not addressing such issues directly, she relied on answers such as "I'm running for the presidency of the United States. I'm not running to be anyone's judge."

Bachmann's typical campaign speech illustrates her efforts to broaden her appeal. Or as she put it in Florence this past week: "We are going to make the case that we're the unifying candidate who can beat Obama."

She opened her remarks to conservative South Carolina audiences with a quick rundown of her stances on cultural issues. But she quickly pivoted to jobs, filling a whiteboard with numbers about tax collections and the nation's swelling deficit.

"You cannot spend more money than what you take in. It's a simple fact of life, right?" Bachmann told a receptive crowd at the Greenville convention center. She promised to submit only balanced budgets as president even though critics say that's impossible.

To national security conservatives, she said: "I won't step one toe out of this country and apologize for the United States of America," the rap that Obama's foreign policy approach gets from conservatives.

She also plays up her role on the House Intelligence Committee, stressing how she's trusted with the nation's secrets and apprised of the most pressing threats.

The broader pitch is a necessity given the times.

Gail Randall, 54, is among those who showed up this past week to hear Bachmann and who think social issues are fading.

Said Randall: "It's all about the economy this year, I think, and job creation."

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