The message that echoed across the State Capitol grounds Saturday couldn't have been simpler: "Kill the bill!"

A day after congressional Democratic leaders announced their final legislative push to enact a bill to overhaul the nation's health care system, opponents rallied to send a noisy contrary message. Rally organizers said 4,000 people attended, but Capitol police estimated the crowd at 2,000 or fewer.

Dozens of times, the crowd members, a combination of Republicans, social conservatives and Tea Partiers, chanted, "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" urged on by a half-dozen speakers.

The headliner and clear crowd favorite was Republican Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said Democrats "are spending us into bondage we can never dig ourselves out of."

Gazing out over the flag-waving, sign-wielding crowd, she said: "This is awesome. This is our country. We own it!"

Bachmann and other speakers urged listeners to vent their outrage to Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation in the days leading up to the final vote on the bill, potentially within a week.

Among the signs being waved was one that listed Marx, Lenin and Stalin, followed by Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Obama, Pelosi and Reid were repeatedly invoked as political villains.

"For some reason," said Second District Republican Rep. John Kline, "President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Harry Reid can't hear you. I can't understand that."

Saying, "We need to start over," Kline was greeted with a roar of approval, causing him to rhetorically invoke Obama, Pelosi and Reid again: "Can you hear this?"

In an interview before the rally, Kline said he isn't certain how the bill will play out. "I would think the American people have been talking so loud, in so many ways, that [Democrats] would realize they need to kill the bill," he said.

Noting House Democrats' concession that they're still short of the votes they need to pass the bill already approved by the Senate, Kline predicted "some world-class arm-twisting is going to be going on. And President Obama's going to be the arm-twister-in-chief."

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance to open the rally was Paul Wheeler, an Indiana Tea Party activist flown in from his home in Indianapolis and outfitted in a Revolutionary War costume.

"I just want to remind people to rethink the basic principles and values of the Founding Fathers," he said. "I think this bill would make them turn over in their graves."

Leading the pledge, he welcomed "the mob, the fringe, the gun-toting nuts and fellow right-wing extremists." He paused before the clause that includes "under God" and bellowed "under who?"

"God!" came the reply.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184