Tea Party darling and surging Republican politician Michele Bachmann announced the start of her presidential campaign in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. As Sandhya Somashekhar reported:

Tea party firebrand Michele Bachmann cast herself as the voice of conservative Republicans, and also disaffected Democrats, in her campaign kick-off speech Monday, promising a better way forward if elected to the White House.

Standing outside a historic building not far from her childhood home, Bachmann said she was entering the race “not for vanity, but because America is at a crucial moment. And I believe that we must make a bold choice if we are to secure the promise of our future.”

The Minnesota congresswoman related her own history — growing up in a politically mixed family of modest means, becoming an education activist in Minnesota and eventually being elected to the halls of Congress, where she was best known as a champion for conservative causes.

“I am profoundly grateful for the blessings that I have received both from God and from this great country,” Bachmann said, adding, “Every American deserves these blessings.”

Since declaring her candidacy this month, Bachmann has toned down the sometimes incendiary language that has reinforced her reputation as an uncompromising conservative. She returned to that more fiery persona Monday, firmly stating her Christian convictions and support for the tea party and accusing President Obama of “leading from behind.”

But she also faulted her own party and cast herself as the candidate for all disgruntled Americans, regardless of party affiliation.

“Our problems don’t have an identity of party; they were problems that were created by both parties,” Bachmann said. “I think that Americans agree our country is in peril today and we have to act with urgency to save it.”

During her speech she mistakenly compared herself John Wayne Gacy the serial killer. As Melissa Bell reported :

On “Fox News Sunday,” Michele Bachmann told Chris Wallace, “Of course a person has to be careful with statements that they make. I think that's true.” Two days later, she may have wished she had followed her own advice a bit more closely. After her presidential campaign kickoff, Bachmann stepped into a cultural joke mindfield by comparing herself to John Wayne of Waterloo, Iowa. The only John Wayne that ever lived in Waterloo was the serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

The mistake has left an easy opening for a flank attack. David Letterman spent four minutes on the incident Monday night, discussing the “ugly and dumb things”politicians say.

On “Morning Joe,” Joe Scarbouragh shared a laugh with former Minnesota governor TimPawlenty, a Bachmann rival, when Scarbouragh asked, “Do you have any serial killers from your hometown?”

Bachmann told CNN that people make mistakes and that she is working to introduce people to her “strong academic scholarly background.”

She went on to say: “John Wayne’s parents’ first home was in Waterloo, Iowa and he was from Iowa and of course the main point I was making are the sensibilities of John Wayne, which is patriotism, love of country, standing up for our nation, that positive enthusiasm is what America’s all about... And that’s of course my main point.”

B achmann made sure to emphasize her association with the Tea Party, whose support has catapulted her to the top tier of prospective GOP nominees. As Chris Cillizza explained:

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann made one thing crystal clear in announcing her intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination Monday in Iowa: She aims to be the tea party candidate in 2012.

“I want my candidacy for the presidency to stand for the moment when ‘we the people’ reclaimed our independence from a government that has gotten too big, spends too much and has taken away too much of our liberty,” she said.

The speech was larded with references to the founding fathers — Bachmann even quoted Daniel Webster — and repeatedly envisioned a return to first principles; “We have to recapture our founders’ vision of a constitutionally conservative government if we are to secure the promise of the future,” Bachmann said at one point.

Bear-hugging the tea party is clearly what Bachmann hopes will distinguish her from a top tier of candidates that includes the likes or more establishment-aligned candidates like former governors Mitt Romney (Mass.), Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) and Jon Huntsman (Utah).

Each of those candidates — with the possible exception of Huntsman — will court tea party activists. But none of the three is, ultimately, of the movement in the same organic way that Bachmann can claim she is.

Bachmann’s strategic gambit is not dissimilar to the way in which former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee positioned himself among Iowa evangelical voters in 2008.

Huckabee touted his credentials as a Baptist minister to prove to social conservatives that he wasn’t just another politician trying to win their vote but someone who — throughout his life — had been fighting the fight alongside them.

It worked as Huckabee won Iowa despite being drastically outspent by Romney.

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