BLUFFTON, S.C. — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told a packed tea party gathering she doesn’t think President Barack Obama is "on our side anymore" as she blamed him for a "foolish" war in Libya and high gasoline prices.
Bachmann got a rock-star reception in a standing-room only crowd at the Bluffton Tea Party, entering as about 350 people sang: "Can you hear us now, sounding the alarm. ... Can you hear us now, we the people."
It’s a birthday weekend of sorts for the grassroots movement, and presidential hopefuls have fanned out around the country to keep their candles lit. Bachmann is on a four-day swing around South Carolina that started with a congressional campaign fundraiser here Monday and is capped with a Statehouse tea party tax day rally in Columbia.
The tea party groups sprang to life in the depth of the recession as Congress approved bailouts and stimulus spending bills that have increased the nation’s debt. They have made Obama and two-dozen U.S. Senate seats Democrats hold their top goals for the 2012 election.
Bachmann said a tea party movement that pundits say is waning is actually winning, citing polls showing Obama’s approval rating flagging.
"We’re winning. We’re winning. 2012 is entirely possible for us to send a change of address form to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Bachmann said. "If the election were held today, Barack Obama would go down in flames, metaphorically speaking."
Obama "has so much to answer for," Bachmann said. When Bachmann said Obama was responsible for Wall Street bailouts, a man in the crowd stood and asked her where they began. She conceded they started with President George W. Bush, but Obama supported them.
Bachmann noted gasoline prices averaged $1.83 a gallon when Obama took office and the national average is now $3.79.
Gas prices in January, when presidents are inaugurated, are generally lower than in warmer months when more Americans travel. Anything from political turmoil in the Middle East to hurricanes can cause prices to fluctuate. The average price of gas in the second week of April during Bush’s last year in office was $3.44 a gallon.
"What’s President Obama’s answer?" Bachmann asked. "Well, after he started the third war in Libya, he went on vacation. And he went on vacation down to Brazil," she said, where he encouraged the country’s offshore oil drilling and signed off on a $2 billion loan.
"Whose side is he on? I don’t think he’s on our side anymore. I really don’t think he’s on our side," she said.
Bachmann railed against U.S. intervention in Libya, saying it came without establishing the United States’ interest, a threat, knowing what the mission would be and who would gain influence if the rebels won.
"The only reports that we have say that there are elements of al-Qaida in North Africa and Hezbollah in the opposition forces," Bachmann said. "What possible benefit is there to the United States by lifting up and creating a toe-hold for al-Qaida in North Africa to take over Libya?" Bachmann said.
While Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is a dictator controlling oil revenue, Bachmann said al-Quaida stands to gain "a permanent source of funding to finance global terror worldwide. Do you see how foolish this decision was that our president made?"
She didn’t mention Gadhafi’s own decades-long rap sheet on terrorism.
In the 1970s, he supplied weapons, training and safe haven to terrorists, including Italy’s Red Brigades and the Irish Republican Army. His regime was implicated in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. soldiers, as well as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270. In 2009, secret cables have shown Gadhafi offered to help U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa.
When asked about the Gadhafi’s background after what was billed as a voter registration event later, Bachmann recalled the Libyan leader’s history. "There’s no question that he has a deplorable past and that he’s been a funder of terrorism," Bachmann said. "He certainly has been a bad actor."
Still, she noted, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that Gadhafi had neither attacked nor threatened the U.S. while al-Qaida has tried to capitalize on the U.S. and NATO intervention.
As for hanging high gasoline prices on Obama, Bachman told reporters: "He hasn’t done anything to bring them down during the course of his presidency. The only actions he’s taken have been ones to actually escalate prices."
Bachmann poured out love for South Carolina Republicans: Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and five U.S. House members, including Joe Wilson, made famous by shouting "You Lie" as Obama addressed Congress in 2009. Noticeably absent in two speeches: Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose conservative voting record has remained overshadowed by deal-making with Democrats.
On Sunday, she has private meetings scheduled. She’s not expected to announce her candidacy before June. She is not committed to being on stage in the first GOP debate slated for May 5 in Greenville.
Bachmann wasn’t alone in courting South Carolina voters. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was making the GOP county convention circuit, where tea party activists have steadily gained influence and leadership positions.
On Friday, Barbour won the Charleston County GOP convention’s straw poll with 22 percent of the vote.
Bachmann placed a distant fifth with 9 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was second with 12 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had 11 percent and millionaire developer Donald Trump had 11 percent.
At the Lexington County GOP convention Saturday, Texas Rep. Ron Paul won the straw poll with 12 percent of the vote, followed by Romney and Trump at 12 percent and Barbour and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10 percent. Bachmann placed in single digits behind former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Barbour was the only candidate in waiting to attend those conventions and one in Richland County Saturday.
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