NORTH CONWAY, N.H. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann brought to New Hampshire yesterday the same withering critique of government that has made her popular among small-government Tea Party movement activists and has fueled her candidacy. But her audience was different.
Bachmann’s last appearance in the state, in June, came as she was a rising star. The Minnesota representative was welcomed by an enthusiastic, cheering crowd of 150 at a backyard event.
This time, Bachmann was greeted by smaller crowds — about 40 people each at town hall meetings with the Mount Washington Valley Republican Committee in North Conway and the Lakes Region Tea Party in Moultonborough. Voters said they were interested in hearing Bachmann, but they were also looking elsewhere.
Republican State Representative Laurie Pettengill said she “absolutely adores’’ Bachmann. But Pettengill favors businessman Herman Cain for president. “He’s stronger. He has all the right answers to the questions I have,’’ she said.
Bachmann’s poll numbers have dropped in this state and elsewhere since Governor Rick Perry of Texas entered the race. Bachmann has largely ignored New Hampshire, campaigning instead in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. A poll released Friday, sponsored by WMUR and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, found her support as low as 2 percent here.
Bachmann addressed the criticism that she has been absent from New Hampshire, blaming the Aug. 2 vote in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. Bachmann said her “first duty’’ was to go back to Washington.
“I was the lone voice in Washington, D.C., crying out, saying don’t give Obama another $2.4 trillion blank check to get through next year,’’ she said. (Most of the Republican candidates, like Bachmann, opposed the debt ceiling compromise reached between President Obama and Congress.)
Bachmann said she was “committed to the ‘live free or die’ state,’’ and said New Hampshire residents care about her message of “restoring liberty and job creation.’’
But her absence could dog her. Richard McClure, a Republican retiree with a “leave me alone’’ view of government, said if he had to vote today, he would choose Perry. McClure had heard Perry speak and likes his stance on limited government and states’ rights. McClure said with Bachmann falling in the polls, “she needs to spend more time in states like New Hampshire doing retail politics.’’
Bill Cuccio, the libertarian-leaning owner of the Lobster Trap, the North Conway restaurant the candidate spoke at yesterday, said he likes Bachmann’s willingness to raise foster children, and her record in Congress.
“The fact she’s not spending time walking up Grove Street shaking hands doesn’t bother me,’’ Cuccio said. But he said Bachmann would be his second choice - after Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Bachmann used her visit to criticize Obama and big government. She advocated eliminating the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. Talking about America’s debt, she said government was guilty not only of negligence - “This is malfeasance.’’
She said she would repeal Obama’s health care overhaul without waiting for the Supreme Court to rule whether it was constitutional. “I don’t trust, necessarily, what the Supreme Court is going to do,’’ she said.
She took a swipe at Republican rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who has said he would grant waivers to all 50 states so they do not have to comply with Obama’s health care law.
“When you hear candidates say I’ll issue an executive order . . . or issue 50 waivers to 50 states, you can know they don’t understand what it takes to get rid of Obamacare,’’ Bachmann said. “The only way to get rid of it is to repeal it.’’
Recognizing that she would need a filibuster-proof Republican majority in the Senate to pass a repeal, Bachmann said, “The only way I want to be president is if I can have an additional 13 like-minded Republican senators so we can have a filibuster-proof majority to actually turn the country around and take it back.’’
She said what sets her apart from other candidates is her commitment to repealing the health care overhaul and the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, which Bachmann referred to as the “jobs and mortgage destruction act of America.’’ (Most other Republican candidates have also said they would repeal the overhaul and Dodd-Frank.)
Bachmann portrayed herself as a fighter who spent five years opposing Obama’s initiatives in Washington.
Bachmann sidestepped a question about her view of Romney’s Mormon faith, an issue raised this weekend when a Baptist preacher introducing Perry said Romney was “not a Christian.’’
She said she has a strong belief in Jesus but believes in religious freedom. “We don’t have a test for people when they go into the White House,’’ she said. “We do believe in liberty and tolerance for all Americans.’’
She also did not take a stance on states’ jockeying for earlier primary dates. The date of New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary has not yet been chosen. But Florida and Nevada have recently moved their contests up, potentially forcing New Hampshire to vote in December.
Asked by Republican National Committeewoman Phyllis Woods about the jockeying, Bachmann said the states should do whatever they like.
“All I know is I want to be your number one, your sweetheart here in New Hampshire, I’m going to be here competing,’’ she said. “If you all want to have it in December, I’m up for it in December.’’