Rep. Michele Bachmann attempts to energize a largely conservative crowd in Iowa on Saturday.
From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
DES MOINES, Iowa -- The one thing missing from this budding presidential cycle, is a candidate who really fires up the base.
Mike Pence, a congressman from Indiana, had potential, but he decided against a presidential bid. He opted to run for governor of Indiana. Sarah Palin obviously has a deep, enthusiastic following, but she looks less likely to run. Mike Huckabee won here last cycle, but he, too, looks less likely to run.
It was Michele Bachmann today who showed the most promise in filling that void. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and Newt Gingrich (R) were politely and well received, but it’s Bachmann who really fired them up with criticisms of the administration, an artful weaving of audience response, and backing up her points with a litany of “statistics.”
She ended her speech here at Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) Conservative Principles Conference by provocatively asking if the crowd was “in” for 2012. And then to rally-like applause, Bachmann declared, “I’m in! You’re in, we’re going to take this country back in 2012.”
So was that an announcement for president? Not quite. This past week, she said she’s in… for the “conversation,” that she wants to have influence – at least – in the race. Sources close to Bachmann this past week told First Read that she is leaning toward a bid and that she will make a decision in June.
Bachmann connected with the audience not just in words, but also tried to do so in genealogy.
The congresswoman from Minnesota, who was born in Iowa, touted, “I am an Iowan!” She rattled off the seven generations of her family that emigrated from Norway to Iowa, a “land of milk and honey.” And she lavished Iowans with praise, calling them intelligent, good natured, and even good looking.
She drew laughs from the crowd, cracking wise on President Barack Obama, a fat target of today’s confab. She started with his NCAA bracket, making fun of his inability to pick Final Four teams. And then pivoted to saying the U.S. is “engaged in a third Middle East war. Talk about March Madness. Can anyone else see Jimmy Carter?”
She joked about the number of waivers granted for health care. She said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) had lobbied for one, and added, “If he gets one, I want mine, too, and I don’t know about you, but I want one from the last two years from Obama.”
Bachmann noted the debt to China, mentioned that a man named Hu is the president of China, and delivered this line: “We know now, Hu is your daddy.”
It’s a line she’s used before, notably at CPAC, but it was the first time for this crowd, and it played much better here than the last time.
She invoked the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, and even light bulbs.
“I think Iowans ought to be trusted on the choice of their own light bulbs,” she boasted to a mix of laughs and applause. “Iowans are really smart people.”
And Bachmann, who noted that she is a child of divorce, gave this socially conservative crowd a little of the policy they want to hear about -- mentioning that “an in-tact two parent family” can do more than a stimulus bill or a revamped education bill.
She praised King, whom she described as a teammate – a “Cage-match team.” She said they vowed not to vote for another spending bill without the president giving “the money back” on health care.
“Give the money back!” she said.
We asked Bachmann as she was leaving: "Does your speech today mean you're running?"
"No, I asked if YOU'RE in," she responded.