ROCK HILL, South Carolina Rising Tea Party star Michele Bachmann said on Wednesday she can be a unifying candidate for the Republican Party's 2012 bid for the U.S. presidency by attracting disaffected Democrat and independent voters.
Bachmann, a conservative member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said her experience shifting as a Democrat who worked on Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign to a Republican congresswoman enables her to attract other voters.
"What sets me apart is I've been there, done that. I understand where they're coming from. I understand independents," she said at a town hall meeting at Winthrop University's DiGiorgio Campus Center. "I am the unifying candidate that is running."
Bachmann, 55, is working to establish herself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's front-runner in a crowded field of candidates fighting for the right to face Democratic President Barack Obama in next year's election.
Her campaign was buoyed by a Des Moines Register poll on Saturday that showed her with 22 percent support in Iowa, only 1 percentage point behind first-place Romney in the first contest on the path to the Republican nomination.
Bachmann was also boosted by a strong performance at a New Hampshire debate two weeks ago, prompting Republicans to take a second look at her.
Wednesday's event -- simulcast on the Internet via Bachmann's website -- took questions from Facebook and the audience, which topped 600 in the main ballroom and several overflow rooms.
Bachmann, who entered to Elvis Presley's "Promised Land" and a standing ovation, focused her rhetoric against Obama's policies, notably the healthcare reform law enacted last year.