ORANGE CITY, Iowa — Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann said she did not want "to trash anyone" on Friday and then called her leading rivals ideologically unfit to win the nomination as she began a bus tour she hopes will yield a caucus comeback.
The Minnesota congresswoman is lagging in the polls and trying to recapture the momentum she lost since summer. She set out on a 99-county bus tour that ferried her from restaurants to catering companies, from a sports bar to a bakery.
"Now is our chance for redemption," Bachmann told supporters packed into The Dutch Bakery to hear her final sales pitch ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses.
"I'm not here to trash anyone," she said — and then criticized the two men leading the GOP race.
"Mitt Romney is the only governor in history of the United States to put into place socialized medicine," she said.
On Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has seen a surge in recent weeks, she said: "Newt has been backing the individual health care mandate for 20 years."
"I am the only consistent constitutional conservative. I'm not a convenient conservative," Bachmann told reporters in Sioux City.
At her campaign events, Bachmann walked around the rooms, posed for pictures and signed autographs.
"Do you want to take a picture? I see you brought a camera," she said as she maneuvered through one event.
"You've got your beautiful Christmas sweater on," she said to another woman.
Aides kept her moving along, noting the busy schedule they have put together for a candidate looking to turn around her political fortunes with time running short.
Bachmann won an early test vote in August in Ames but quickly fell as Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race that same day and stole her spotlight. Erratic behavior and lackluster debate performances left voters sour on Perry, and many moved on to pizza executive Herman Cain. He has since exited the race, fueling a late rise for Gingrich.
Bachmann, noting the fluid nature of the race, is hoping for a second shot.
"It's been like a political Wall Street; people have been up, down, up, down," she said at a catering company in Rock Rapids.
"We are seeing a whole rejiggering going on of the political calculus. We are on the upswing right now," she told supporters. "We're seeing a completely difference change of momentum. My plan, with your help, is to be the nominee."
While she has been relegated to the second tier in the polls, many voters remain undecided and open to hearing from her.
"I'm struggling. I've been able to eliminate some, but there are three or four that I'm still looking at," said Curtis Jacob, a 35-year-old who supported Mike Huckabee four years ago. "I definitely have not eliminated Bachmann. She could still be on the top of my list."
Hence, Bachmann's late pitch.
"They may not even agree with me on all the issues, but they know I'm not going to lie to them. They know I'm going to do what I say," she said.
And one by one, she seemed to sway caucusgoers.
"I like the way she carries herself and expresses herself," said Marlene Bowers, a Rock Rapids retiree who plans to caucus for Bachmann. "She doesn't beat around the bush."
Bachmann prides herself on that reputation, but not everyone seemed enamored with her conservative viewpoints about gay rights, same-sex marriage and other issues.
"All you're doing is teaching people to hate," said Brad Reynolds, a Rock Rapids voter who confronted Bachmann during her stop there.
"No, I'm not," Bachmann said calmly.
"Thank you for giving me my piece," Reynolds said as he walked away.
"Like George Wallace standing in the way of civil rights, Michele Bachmann will be judged for campaigning on hatred," he said after. "She is preaching hatred of gays."