WASHINGTON - In a high-test speech to the conservative coalition's largest annual gathering, Tea Party icon Michele Bachmann on Thursday called for social and fiscal conservatives to come together to defeat President Obama in 2012.
The Minnesota Republican, trying out her message for a potential White House bid, brought the crowd of 11,000 to its feet with an appeal to "win the Triple Crown of 2012, which is holding on to the House of Representatives, winning a conservative Senate and, oh yeah baby, winning the White House."
Bachmann's unity plea came as a handful of groups opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage decided to boycott the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) because of the participation of GOProud, a conservative organization that supports gay rights.
Many of the speakers at the three-day event, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, are expected to stress the need to reduce the federal deficit and shrink government. But Bachmann said fiscal issues are not enough.
"I strongly disagree that that that's all there is," she said. "And I believe most conservatives agree with that as well."
Bachmann, introduced by CPAC organizer David Keene as "part of the core" of modern conservatism, shaped her remarks to fit the movement's three largest strains.
"Your passion is about fiscal conservatism, and I am one of you," said Bachmann, now in her third term in Congress and emerging as a national conservative spokeswoman.
"For some of you, your passion is about defending the moral values that grounded this country, and I am one of you.
"And some of you are all about national security ... and I am one of you."
Cheers and applause
Bachmann also reprised some her newer attack lines against Obama and the Democrats' health care overhaul.
"We have seen President Obama usher in socialism under his watch over the last two years," she said to ecstatic cheers and applause. "Obamacare is quite clearly the crown jewel of socialism, and repealing it is the driving motivation of my life. The first political breath I take every morning is to repeal Obamacare."
Bachmann also took on former President Bill Clinton, who was quoted this week as saying that Bachmann lives in a political "parallel universe divorced from reality with no facts."
Assailing Democratic economic policies that she said undermine "personal responsibility," Bachmann took an indirect shot at the sex scandal that nearly brought down Clinton's presidency. "All we have to do is look at the Clinton administration," she said. "Say no more. You want to talk about parallel universe?"
Combining light personal touches with strident political oratory, Bachmann started with a good-natured riff on the criticism she took for her skewed-camera performance in the Tea Party Express rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union address. "I need to find the right camera," she said, fixing her gaze over a crowded hotel ballroom of political activists straight into the bank of television cameras in the back of the room.
The crowd ate it up -- a sign that she can electrify a conservative crowd as well as any of the more experienced presidential hopefuls who will follow her to the CPAC stage between now and Saturday's presidential straw poll.
"She's really a terrific speaker. She got the group rallied," said Loree Hinderaker, wife of Minnesota activist John Hinderaker, who was covering the conference for the conservative Power Line blog. "She really can say things off the cuff. I could tell she went off her speech many times. She's very engaging that way."
A focus on the young
With college students making up nearly half of the CPAC conference-goers, Bachmann also used her speech to promote her open-bar reception at the end of the day ("one-drink limit"), a gesture that Pawlenty, who will speak on Friday, planned to match at a nearby Irish pub.
Bachmann's take on the nation's $14 trillion debt focused on its impact on the young. They could, she said, one day be laboring under a 75 percent tax burden that included the mounting costs of Social Security, Medicare, federal and state taxes, as well as sales and property tax burdens. "This goes on and on and on, all the way to death taxes," she said. "They get you coming, and they get you going."
Warning of the growing burden society is placing on future generations of college students, she joked, "How are you going to pay for your iTunes downloads on 25 percent of your salary?"
Conference-goers responded with several standing ovations, including sustained cheers for a rousing finale predicting a one-term Obama presidency.
As a bonus, Bachmann tossed in a little Minnesota-bred, "Prairie Home Companion"-style flattery: "You're all incredibly good looking ... plus you're talented and very excited."
"She made it very real," said Joshua Nehmeh, a banker from Huntington Beach, Calif. "She's a very good conservative spokesperson."
Tony DeMott, a Campaign for Liberty organizer from Michigan, compared her to Sarah Palin, who did not attend the conference. "They're kind of riding fame, name recognition and that kind of thing," he said. As to whether that could translate into electability, he said, "She spoke the language, so we'll see."
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753