By Stephanie Condon
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann delivered an intensely personal and religious speech at Liberty University on Wednesday, reaching out to the Christian conservative base that will be critical for her if she hopes to win the Iowa caucuses, which could be key to her presidential campaign.
"Don't take your life, don't take this university, don't take the future of the most magnificent country God has ever bequeathed" for granted, Bachmann told Liberty students, putting a Christian spin on her recent campaign mantra of "don't settle." She continued, "Don't settle for anything less than what this great and mighty God has planned for you."
Bachmann's standing in the Republican primary peaked in August, when she won the Iowa straw poll, but her prominence has waned since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race.
Attempting to win back Republican voters, Bachmann has in recent days focused on telling audiences that this is the moment to elect a true conservative. On Monday, she took an implicit swipe at Perry, suggesting the governor was "compromised when it comes to political donors."
On Wednesday, however, Bachmann focused primarily on her own story and life path, tailoring her "don't settle" theme for Liberty -- a private, Christian university in Virginia, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
She told the students that they shouldn't accept their fate as the first generation of Americans who may not do better economically than their parents' generation, because "as believers in Jesus Christ, each of us only have one life... Don't settle with this gift He has given to you."
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The Minnesota lawmaker told the students about how she found Jesus Christ at age 16 and how experiencing a miscarriage bolstered her faith. She also related how she was inspired by the faith of the pilgrims.
"We are the nation that was founded upon the creed," she said. "The only reason we have a government is to secure those rights God gave to us"
Bachmann's focus on her Christian conservative credentials may be the ticket to keeping her campaign alive. In a video released yesterday, Bachmann's campaign manager Keith Nahigian laid out the candidate's path to victory, saying Bachmann "has to win Iowa and move on from there."
Iowa has traditionally been the first state to nominate presidential candidates and thus has outsize influence in the process. Evangelicals have particular influence in Iowa. 2008 exit polling found that 60 percent of the Iowa Republican electorate in 2008 was "born-again Christian," while white evangelicals make up about just about one-third of the Republican electorate nationwide.
Bachmann can win Iowa, Nahigian said, by building up a solid campaign infrastructure there and identifying key voting blocs. Victory in Iowa will trigger an uptick in financial support and media attention, he said, creating momentum for the rest of the race.
While she may not be as strong in New Hampshire, Bachmann "has a very strong presence" in the early-nominating state of South Carolina, Nahigian added, and is the only candidate who can rope in support from constitutional conservatives, Christian conservatives and national security conservatives.
Bachmann proved with her straw poll win that her support in Iowa is strong, but it's not a sure bet -- a new American Research Group poll out of Iowa shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the lead with 21 percent support and Bachmann coming in second with 15 percent. Perry is close on her heels with 14 percent, as is Rep. Ron Paul with 12 percent.
"You're going to see people come in front of us and behind us," Nahigian said in his video, "but we are on the exact path that we have designed." .