WATERLOO, Iowa -- Outspoken tea party favorite Michele Bachmann cast herself as the "bold choice" for the Republican presidential nomination as she formally kicked off her campaign Monday in her Iowa home town.
Outside a sun-splashed historic mansion in Waterloo, Bachmann told a crowd of more than 100 family members, friends, supporters and others that she is waging her campaign "not for vanity," but because voters "must make a bold choice if we are to secure the promise of the future."
The three-term Minnesota congresswoman railed against the Democrat she hopes to oust -- President Barack Obama.
"We can't afford four more years of Barack Obama," she said.
Bachmann steered clear of specific proposals she'd advance as president, a day after suggesting that the concerns over averting a debt crisis were "scare tactics" that could be solved by paying only the interest on U.S. obligations while lawmakers work on a deal to cut spending as part of a new debt ceiling. The idea has been dismissed as unworkable by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
She reminisced about her childhood in a Democratic household -- and her own volunteer work for Democratic President Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign. But she made clear her allegiances long ago shifted, stressing her tea party connections.
"The liberals, and to be clear I am not one of those, want you to believe the tea party movement is just the right wing of the Republican Party," she said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
As a new Iowa poll this past weekend signaled she'll be a force in the state that opens the Republican nomination contest, Bachmann hopes to reshape the GOP field and how she's viewed by voters. After the formal Iowa kickoff, she planned to shift her focus to New Hampshire and South Carolina, other early voting states with traditions of separating the viable contenders from the political also-rans.
Bachmann, 55, has many wondering if the edgy side that turned her into a conservative star will be the one she shows on the presidential campaign trail. Her say-anything approach has earned her a loyal following but also plenty of guff from detractors who see her as a fringe politician prone to missteps.
In March, she famously flubbed Revolutionary War geography. She told a group of students and conservative activists in Manchester, N.H. "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord." Those first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire. She later admitted she made a mistake.
For this campaign, she has surrounded herself with no-nonsense veterans of national politics, some of whom have deep ties to the political establishment Bachmann typically eschews.
Striking a less contentious tone, Bachmann told the Iowa crowd.
"Our problems don't have an identity of party, they are problems that were created by both parties," she said, adding, "Americans aren't interested in affiliation, they're interested in solutions."
Bachmann's unswerving style provides a sharp contrast with the more measured way of 2012 rivals, such as former Govs. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Others vying for the nomination are ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and businessman Herman Cain.
Possible late entrants include Texas Gov. Rick Perry and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
A Des Moines Register poll published Sunday showed Bachmann and Romney far out front of the others in Iowa.
Some at Monday's event said they were giving her a hard look and could see supporting her at February's caucus.
Marv Dillavou, a firearms salesman, said he's not ready to commit to a candidate but likes what he's seen from Bachmann.
"I'm happy to see a serious female candidate. She's very accomplished," Dillavou said. Critics, he added, "make too much of every word, every innuendo gets blown out of proportion. It's good that she speaks her mind."
Cedar Falls retiree Terrye Kizlyk was also impressed.
"She speaks from here," Kizlyk said, pointing to her heart.
Bachmann's political climb has been swift, brushing off a school board race defeat just 12 years ago and moving rapidly from Minnesota's state Senate to Congress. In Washington, Bachmann vaulted to prominence by trying to block and now promising to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. She has also tangled with GOP House leaders over her concerns they are too timid on federal spending cuts.
She's staunchly conservative on social issues, too, calling for more abortion restrictions and constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage.
In her latest national introduction, Bachmann has played up a softer side by highlighting her role in raising five children and 23 foster kids. But she's also gone hard at Obama, laying federal debt and deficits at his feet and accusing him of pushing the nation toward socialism.
Dubbing herself a "constitutional conservative," Bachmann said she would bring a vastly different philosophy to the White House.
"I don't believe that the solutions to our problems are Washington centric, I believe they are every American centric," she said.