As the East Coast recovered from an earthquake and then dealt with a deadly weekend hurricane, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann set the political world abuzz when she said that God was using the natural disasters to send a message to politicians.

It was the latest eyebrow-raising comment from the Republican presidential contender, and one her staff quickly brushed it off as a joke.

"Obviously she was saying it in jest," campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart told the website Talking Points Memo.

Making a campaign swing through Florida over the weekend, Bachmann alluded to Hurricane Irene and the recent earthquake on the East Coast.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians," she said. "We've had an earthquake, we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."

Other verbal missteps have dotted Bachmann's run for the nation's highest office.

The day before her official presidential announcement, Bachmann incorrectly said movie star John Wayne was from her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. He's from Winterset, Iowa, about three hours away. Compounding the slip, the incident went viral when it was reported that serial killer John Wayne Gacy lived and worked in Waterloo. Earlier this month, Bachmann began remarks in South Carolina by wishing Elvis Presley a happy birthday -- except it was actually the anniversary of his death.

"As one isolated comment, I don't think it's going to end her candidacy, of course," Kathryn Pearson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said of Bachmann.

But "it reminds observers of a pattern, and whether or not there'll be more comments like this to come."

Bachmann's statements, however, drew a reply from Tom Horner, who left the GOP to join the Independence Party for an unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

"On a gorgeous day like today, does it mean that God is happy with MN, Michele?" Horner tweeted.

While in Florida, Bachmann also created headlines by suggesting that the Everglades -- a key source of drinking water for South Florida -- should be opened to energy exploration. "The United States needs to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy, and more dependent on American resourcefulness.

"Whether that is in the Everglades or whether that is in the eastern Gulf region or whether that is in North Dakota, we need to go over the energy rules," she said.

Her comments came as the latest national polls showed that, following her straw poll victory in Iowa, she had not generated momentum. The polls found that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was building a lead and cutting into Bachmann's support among conservatives.

In both the latest Gallup and Public Policy Polling results, released last week, Bachmann fared no better than third among the Republican presidential hopefuls, trailing both Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Public Policy Polling survey. In the Gallup poll, Bachmann also trailed Rep. Ron Paul, leaving her in fourth place.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673 Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.