LYNCHBURG, Va. — On her biggest stage since beginning to stumble as a presidential hopeful, Rep. Michele Bachmann on Wednesday cast the decision faced by Republican primary voters in deeply religious terms, telling a stadium full of Christian college students: “Don’t settle.”
Implicit in Bachmann’s speech was a message that despite her drop in polls, campaign shake-up and a series of much-discussed gaffes, the Minnesota congresswoman remains far from accepting her second-tier status, or conceding defeat to front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Rather, her appearance before 10,000 at Liberty University, the school founded by television evangelist Jerry Falwell, revealed the path that she sees ahead of her and the voting bloc of Christian conservatives she thinks can catapult her back into the debate and make her, as she put it, the “comeback kid.”
“Don’t settle. This mighty God we serve has a vision so big,” Bachmann told the student body at Liberty’s weekly convocation. “This is an election, of all elections, when we have the opportunity to turn the nation around.”
Bachmann’s theme of “don’t settle,” which she honed in recent days at smaller gatherings in Iowa and Florida, rests on a notion that voters have decided that President Obama is destined to fail in 2012. Therefore, Bachmann contends, Republicans should nominate the purest constitutional, fiscal and social conservative to remake Washington.
In the smaller gatherings, Bachmann suggested that Perry and Romney aren’t good enough, saying they have compromised conservative credentials on illegal immigration and health care, respectively. On Wednesday, Bachmann did not repeat those accusations, but rather cast herself as the clearest alternative, the conservative “full package.”
“I may not be the tallest candidate on stage,” she said of recent debates. “But I will tell you, I put my spine up against any man on that stage.”
Bachmann drew the most applause when she attacked Obama’s record, saying voters shouldn’t accept socialized medicine, runaway federal spending or other government largess that curtails citizens’ rights.
Underpinning the speech was a strong appeal to evangelicals.
“We are the nation that was founded upon the creed,” Bachmann said, at one point delving into her own story of finding Christ at age 16. “It is an almighty God that has given to us our inalienable rights. It is not government that gave us our rights.”
Bachmann also used a patchwork of Bible stories to illustrate her don’t-settle message. She recited Old Testament Scripture about Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years to suggest that if conservatives compromise on a candidate with lesser principles, disastrous consequences could result.
“The people were fearful, the people didn’t trust God, and you know the rest of the story. For 40 years, those who failed to trust in God, for 40 years, those who settled ended up wandering in the wilderness,” she said.
“Don’t settle for anything less than what this great and almighty God has planned for you. He has planned greatness for you, greatness for your personal life, greatness for your marriage, greatness for your children, greatness for your career, greatness for this nation.”
Bachmann received a standing ovation, but not everyone was impressed.
“If she’s a great Christian, that’s awesome,” said Andrew Butler, 19, who said he is supporting Ron Paul for the GOP nomination. But “there are a lot of great Christians who are not qualified to be the president.”