Rep. Michele Bachmann, stressing her Iowa roots and appealing directly to Tea Party voters, came out swinging Monday as she formally launched her campaign for president.
Buoyed by a strong showing in several recent polls, the Minnesota congresswoman cast her campaign as the voice for "constitutional conservatives" looking for a government that lives within its means while giving the private sector the room to grow. She launched a broadside against President Obama for racking up too much debt while stimulating too little job growth and vowed to make him a "one-term president."
"We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama," she declared, later adding: "We can win in 2012 and we will win."
In her announcement, Bachmann described a special bond with Iowa, the nation's leadoff caucus state. She held the kickoff in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, and called herself a "descendent of generations of Iowans," saying the state is where she learned "everything I needed to know." She also appealed to another vital primary constituency, calling herself part of the Tea Party movement and defending it as a cross-section of Republicans, independents and disaffected Democrats.
Trying to show she has what it takes to not just win primaries but take on the president, Bachmann pulled no punches in attacking the Obama administration as she wove in details about her personal life and convictions. As she spoke about faith and family, she also accused the president of failing to revive the economy and putting far too much on the nation's credit card.
"We can't continue to rack up debt. ... We can't afford the unconstitutional health care law that will cost us too much and deliver too little. We can't afford four more years of failed leadership here at home and abroad," she said. "We can't afford four more years of millions of Americans who are out of work. ... And we can't afford four more years of a foreign policy with a president who leads from behind and who doesn't stand up for our friends like Israel."
Still, Bachmann said in an interview with The Associated Press that her bid to unseat Obama is not "personal."
The nothing-personal message was a departure from her 2008 comments questioning whether Obama had "anti-American" views. She has said she wishes she framed her criticism differently. In her announcement, Bachmann said the country's problems have been caused by the policies of both parties and made an appeal for unity.
Bachmann, who filed her papers to run for president two weeks ago, plans to head next to the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said that despite Bachmann's rhetoric, her policies would "erode the path to prosperity" for the middle class.
"She voted for a budget plan that would extend tax cuts for the richest Americans on the backs of seniors and the middle class while ending Medicare as we know it. Congresswoman Bachmann introduced legislation to repeal Wall Street oversight -- risking a repeat of the financial crisis -- and while she voted to preserve subsidies for oil and gas companies she opposes making the investments necessary to enhance America's competitiveness and create the jobs of the future," LaBolt said in a statement.
The Iowa Democratic Party also put out a statement Monday morning assailing Bachmann's presidential bid, chastising her for supporting Republicans' budget plan that would overhaul Medicare.
"With candidates like Michele Bachmann, the choice couldn't be clearer -- do Iowans want to double down on the flawed economic policies that cost us millions of jobs and almost sent us into a second Great Depression, or do they want to continue down the path to recovery that has taken us from massive job losses to 15 straight months of private sector job growth and a focus on strengthening the middle class?" party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said.
But the congresswoman has been surging in recent polls. A key Iowa poll over the weekend showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 23 percent support and Bachmann with 22 percent among those who said they were likely to vote in the nation's first Republican nomination contest. The top five included Georgia businessman Herman Cain, at 10 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, with 7 percent each.
Speaking Sunday to hundreds at a local ballroom, Bachmann effusively mentioned her Iowa roots.
"We need more Waterloo. We need more Iowa. We need more closeness, more families, more love for each other," she told her enthusiastic crowd.
The audience soaked it up.
"She's one of `us.' There are too many of `them' in Washington and not enough of `us,"' said insurance salesman David Alderman. "I think she's got star power. She's a front-runner right now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.