CONCORD, N.C.--Her poll numbers nationally may be on a downward slide, but no one can say that GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has lost the personal touch. Working the crowd at Troutman’s BBQ, tucked into the rolling hills of the Piedmont, it’s clear that Bachmann is no Mitt Romney. She prays with the people over their mac n’ cheese and authentic barbecue (vinegar-based, of course). She poses for their snapshots, reaches for their outstretched hands, and steps away from the podium to be closer. She flings around the word “liberal” like it deserves the ministrations of a bar of soap.
“People want you to think, or at least the liberals in the media want you to think, that the tea party is made out of hillbillies, who are toothless coming down from Appalachia wearing red, white, and blue,” Bachmann tells her blue-jean clad supporters. “But the tea party is made up of decent people who believe we’re taxed enough already, that government shouldn’t spend more money than it takes in, and that we should stand by and live under and be proud of the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Dog whistles and a few “Amens” rise up. It’s hard to imagine a similar reaction to Romney, the campaign’s buttoned-down front-runner.
Yet a couple of hours later, it was an entirely different scene when Bachmann addressed a chamber of commerce crowd in Charlotte, the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. There, she met some resistance to her anti-Big Government message, quizzed by a local reporter about her position that the federal government should not attempt to create jobs. The reporter noted that the government, in fact, had created a good many jobs in Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County, a onetime economic powerhouse that now suffers from 11 percent unemployment.
A day on the campaign trail with Bachmann in North Carolina reveals the crux of the problem for a candidate who has gone from political riches to rags in a little over a month’s time, from winning the Iowa straw poll in August to finishing at or near the bottom in similar tests of strength in Florida and Michigan in September. Her rabble-rousing populism plays well with social conservatives and salt-of-the-earth voters, but the business elite of the Republican Party are more skeptical of her as a presidential candidate.
When the Charlotte reporter asked whether she would do away with federal subsidies responsible for local jobs, she served up some tough love. “North Carolina may do what North Carolina wishes to do, and I would wish the state well in its decisions. But as far as the federal government is concerned, as president of the United States, I would adopt a policy of embracing the free market,” Bachmann said. “The American people know how to create jobs, companies know how to create jobs, and I look to them for their wisdom.”
Earlier, at the cozy Concord barbecue joint, reminiscent of a grandmother’s living room, Bachmann called herself a “strong rock-ribbed constitutional conservative,” who would dismantle the bureaucracy in Washington. “I think the place that we begin is by going in and locking the doors and turning off the lights on the Department of Education,” she said, promising to do the same at the Environmental Protection Agency.
President Obama’s efforts to induce the creation of environmentally friendly “green” jobs is costing taxpayers “$23 million per job,” Bachmann charged. “At this rate, we can’t afford to have Barack Obama create any more of his jobs. I understand what this president does not. The government doesn’t create jobs. ("Amen!" said a voice.) The private sector creates jobs.”
She also struck a darker note, charging that the controversial Solyndra solar energy company got federal subsidies from the Obama White House in exchange for campaign contributions. “Solyndra was a big donor to President Obama, and President Obama’s administration gave that big donor a $535 million loan. The company just went belly up this month, and we’re out our $535 million,” she said.
Bachmann ended her day with a fundraiser in Moore County in the central region of North Carolina, where about 200 people turned out to see her. Once again, she revved up the crowd with her remarks. “So you see, this is what government does. They love monopoly. They believe in centralization. Everything’s that anathema to the Founders, anathema to the tea party, anathema to the core central principles of the Republican Party,” she said. “If you’re at the highest part of the economic social strata to the lowest part of the economic strata, no matter what your background or ethnicity, all of America has been devastated by these policies.”
It’s a message she hopes will appeal to similar rock-ribbed conservatives in Iowa, where Bachmann hopes to resuscitate her campaign. Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus tends to attract the kind of social conservatives that have been attracted to Bachmann, R-Minn.
As she closed a day of dawn-to-dusk day of campaigning, Bachmann exclaimed, “I don’t know if I’ve ever met a happier collection of people in my life than the sweetest people I’ve met here tonight at Moore County!” Someone suggested, “Well, Michele, you know they’re all retired!” She laughed, never losing that personal touch.