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Bachmann asks Reagan’s ‘better off’ question

CARROLL — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, taking a rhetorical cue from one her political heroes, Ronald Reagan, elicited some of the strongest response from a Carroll audience Sunday when she asked, “Are you better off today than you were two years ago?”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus appeared before voters in Carroll, but avoided all audience and local media questions. (Photo: Jeff Storjohann/Carroll Daily Times Herald)

The vast majority in a crowd of about 200 people — most from the Carroll area — responded in unison with a hearty, “No!”

Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman and a leader of the tea party movement in the U.S. House, stopped in Carroll just before 1 p.m. Sunday as part of a swing through Iowa less than a week after formally announcing White House ambitions in her hometown of Waterloo.

Speaking in front of the Pizza Ranch — a favorite stop of Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats during his primary bid for governor — Bachmann unleashed a torrent of criticisms of President Obama. She sought to portray herself as a genuine article challenging a carefully choreographed White House message machine.

“In a Michele Bachmann White House there won’t be any teleprompters,” Bachmann said.

That said, Bachmann did not field questions from the audience and refused to take questions from The Carroll Daily Times Herald and other local media. She is the only candidate in the last six presidential election cycles — Democrat or Republican — not to take questions from the media or conduct interviews with local reporters during a Carroll stop. Bachmann’s handlers even refused an interview when told the lead questions would be related to agriculture.

But Bachmann did take time for many photos, handshakes and even an impromptu dance on the small portable stage from where she spoke with 83-year-old Ken Shibata, a former Carroll city councilman.

As the event wound down, and music (which included some Elvis) came across the sound system, Bachmann looked to Shibata who was greeting her and asked if he could dance, the former councilman said.

“I said, ‘I sure can,’” Shibata said.

Shibata twirled around the petite 55-year-old congresswoman and received compliments for his dancing feet. “She said, ‘You’re a good one,’” Shibata said.

Bachmann, who moved from Iowa to Minnesota at age 12, refers to her Hawkeye State roots frequently, saying she has an “Iowa voice.”

“It’s time to have an Iowan in the White House,” Bachmann said.

On the issues, Bachmann drilled home a message of fiscal conservatism and austerity, highlighting her opposition to the auto and bank bailouts as well as the federal stimulus package.

“Mr. President, the people in Carroll, Iowa, are saying, ‘It’s time to stop the spending.’”

She mocked the notion of “shovel ready” projects getting priority through federal stimulus under Obama.

“Somebody, quick, take that shovel out of his hands before he digs us any deeper,” Bachmann said.

Shibata, a Republican, said he agreed with Bachmann’s comments on federal spending.

“We have to get rid of this dang debt we’ve got in the United States of America,” Shibata said.

Overall, Shibata said Bachmann was “great.”

The congresswoman also said Obama’s foreign policy is weak-kneed, that he doesn’t stand up for the United States.

“You will never find me going across the world apologizing for the United States of America,” she said.

The most recent Iowa poll in The Des Moines Register showed Bachmann narrowly trailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in early Iowa Caucuses preferences, 23 percent to 22 percent.

Bachmann believes her tea party bona fides will bring independents and disaffected Democrats into the Republican caucuses.

“The liberals are very afraid of this movement, and they should be,” Bachmann said.

Appearing in Carroll just a day before the Fourth of July Bachmann started her speech — which she delivered without notes or the aforementioned teleprompters — with references to Charles Carroll, the Marylander who is the only Catholic to have signed the Declaration of Independence, the last signer to pass away, and the Founder for whom Carroll — and many other counties in the United States — are named. Bachmann pointed out that Carroll added “of Carrollton” after his name, giving the British his “address.”

“That’s the bravery of Charles Carroll and the bravery of people here in Carroll,” Bachmann said.

Former Republican Iowa Lt. Gov. Art Neu of Carroll attended the Bachmann event and did not come away impressed.

“I don’t think she even began to answer questions specifically that we’re faced with,” Neu said.

Neu said that Bachmann will need to allow Iowans to ask her questions. If she stays cocooned by staff in staged events, Bachmann will pay a price in the caucuses, Neu said.

“It’s certainly going to damage her going across rural Iowa,” Neu said.

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