A calmer, more subdued Michele Bachmann took to the stage Friday night at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. Her voice was noticeably less passionate than in stump speeches past.
The old standards were all there: I will repeal Obamacare, she promised. Conservatives don’t have to settle for a moderate, she pleaded. Let’s make Barack Obama a “One! Term! President!” she chanted, though this time it sounded more like, “One. Term. President.”
Pavvo Ensio from Tucson, Arizona, put it kindly when he said it wasn’t her best performance. “She said all the things I agree with and want to hear,” he said as he left the ballroom with his wife. “But it was kind of flat.”
As the last presidential candidate to speak on Friday, Bachmann had been allotted 25 minutes, but her address lasted 45. The speech looped back several times to her tried and true applause lines, though there were a few surprises.
The three-term Minnesota congresswoman waxed historic, quoting one of her “all-time favorite Founding Fathers,” John Adams. In a 1780 letter to his wife Abigail, Bachmann said, Adams made his case for the American Revolution. “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy,” Adams had written. “My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy in order to give their children the right to study painting, poetry, music, and architecture.”
“Now that’s a short passage,” Bachmann said. “But it says so much.” How much, exactly, did it say? The audience soon found out.
“What John Adams recognized, and what has become all too apparent since 2008, is that there are times when events reach a tipping point, or a decision point,” Bachmann said. “It’s at those times, I believe, when a country needs citizens like all of us…who are willing to fight not only for our political freedom, with all of the intensity, with all of the dedication, with all the willingness to sacrifice that we’ve come to associate with our soldiers beyond our shores, because this evening here at the Values Voters Summit, I believe that America is at our generational decision point. Because the decisions that we are about the embark on in the next few months in this nation, we will choose the next leader of our country, and we will choose the direction, and we will determine whether we will grow the economy or whether we will watch it slip back into a recession that has the potential for becoming potentially a worldwide recession, and even, some say, a depression.”
Bachmann supporter Virginia Larson put it best. “She’s got more chutzpah than half a dozen men put together,” she told me before the speech. Larson was one of several people throughout the Omni Shoreham Hotel Friday night wearing Bachmann campaign stickers. But judging by Bachmann’s average national poll numbers—4.6 percent and dropping—these folks may represent her last vestige of supporters.
Linda Woodward, a schoolteacher from Ohio, said she’s always liked Bachmann, but not for president. “I just want somebody with executive experience,” she said. “That bothers me a little bit about her.”
“I don’t think she’s strong enough,” said Julia Duvall of Los Angeles. “It’s pretty much the same old rhetoric.”
As enthusiasm for Bachmann seems to fade among all but her staunchest supporters, Herman Cain continues to rise with these social conservatives. His speech to the Summit on Friday afternoon reportedly brought the house down.
Cain would go on to place second in this weekend's straw poll behind frequent spoiler Ron Paul.
“Cain wowed everybody,” said Ensio, although he said he’s unsure if the businessman from Georgia can get elected.
Nicole Theis of the Delaware Family Policy Council said she is worried about Cain’s lack of policy experience but acknowledged that he seemed to have won over the crowd. “I think people are responding to Cain’s heart,” she said.
“Mr. Cain was fine today,” said Woodward, who said she didn’t know a lot about him before seeing him speak. “He got me today!”
Nancy Wendt from New Hampshire has been a Cain fan since she first met him last spring. “He’s an honest man,” she gushed. “He’s a man of principle. He’s not afraid. He’s not going to back down like Pawlenty did. He’s just going to keep going.”
Duvall, on the other hand, had never heard of Cain before Friday but now considers herself a big fan. “You listen to him,” she said. “He not only tells us what the problem is, he tells us a solution that he has for the problem.”
So whither Bachmann, once the queen of the Tea Party and the darling of social conservatives? For some, at least, she seems to have been replaced. “She’s good at what she’s doing [in Congress],” Wendt told me. “I’m for Herman Cain.”