| WATERLOO, Iowa
WATERLOO, Iowa Rising Tea Party star Michele Bachmann leaped into the Republican 2012 presidential nomination race on Monday, saying the country cannot afford four more years of President Barack Obama's handling of the economy.
"Make no mistake about it, Barack Obama will be a one-term president," Bachmann, a conservative member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, said in announcing her candidacy with a blistering critique of the Democratic president.
Bachmann, 55, is attempting to establish herself as the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney among a crowded field of Republican candidates.
Bachmann's announcement speech, accompanied by rock music as traffic noise roared from a nearby highway, was full of rhetoric against Obama, memories of her Iowa childhood years and her rock-solid devotion to conservative principles of low taxes and low government spending. She was born in Waterloo.
She was buoyed by a Des Moines Register poll on Saturday that showed her with 22 percent support, only one percentage point behind first-place Romney among Republicans in Iowa.
The Midwestern state holds the first contest on the road to the Republican presidential nomination. Bachmann may have to win the Iowa caucuses to be a contender for the nomination.
Her challenge will be to gain the trust of voters beyond the hard-core conservatives who form her base. While Bachmann plays well among social conservatives who dominate politics in Iowa, her support is more uncertain elsewhere.
A former tax lawyer, Bachmann is the head of the Tea Party caucus in the House and is a fiscal hawk, as well as a strong critic of gay marriage and abortion.
'SHE'S GOT SOME CHARISMA'
The Tea Party is a loosely organized conservative political movement that emerged after Obama took office in 2009.
"She's got some charisma, she's got intelligence," said Republican strategist Charlie Black, a veteran of presidential campaigns. "I'm not saying she's going to win the nomination. I don't know. But she could be one of the two or three finalists after we get through the first four events."
Jennifer Duffy of the non-partisan Cook Political Report said Bachmann had overturned the conventional wisdom that she was simply an updated version of Sarah Palin, the fiery Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.
Unlike Palin, who is to visit Iowa on Tuesday in her continued flirtation with a presidential run, Bachmann holds public office.
"She's gone out and proven very early that she's her own candidate and somebody who is going to have to be reckoned with," Duffy said.
Rather than taking shots at her Republican rivals, Bachmann urged voters to make a "bold choice" and pick her. She focused her energies on Obama's handling of the economy, still suffering from 9.1 percent unemployment.
"We cannot afford four more years of millions of Americans who are out of work and are not making enough in wages to support a family. ... We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama," she said to loud cheers from the crowd.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt fired back at Bachmann, saying her support for extending tax cuts begun under Republican President George W. Bush, including cuts for the wealthy, hurt the middle class.
"Congresswoman Bachmann talks about reclaiming the American Dream but her policies would erode the path to prosperity for middle-class families," he said.
Her recent political rise shows the power of Tea Party fiscal conservatives who came to prominence in last year's congressional elections, partly due to voter worries about the budget deficit, estimated to be $1.4 trillion in 2011.
Tea Party Republicans are pushing hard for steep spending cuts in bipartisan talks to avoid a debt default.
Despite the poor economy, Obama still heads most polls against Republican rivals in the 2012 election but is seen as vulnerable by many analysts because of the economy's problems.
Bachmann quoted Obama as saying in February 2009 that if he did not get the economy growing in three years "there's going to be a one-term proposition."
"Well, Mr. President, your policies haven't worked, spending our way out of the recession hasn't worked, and so Mr. President we take you at your word," she said.
Her strong performance at a New Hampshire debate two weeks ago has given her a boost and prompted Republicans to take a second look at Bachmann, who is a mother of five children and has provided foster care for 23 others.
The crowd in Waterloo included ardent supporters and undecided voters who came to hear what she had to say.
"I'm looking for someone who can deliver on what she says, someone whose words and actions line up," said Jennifer Green of West Des Moines. "She's a little bit outside the box, she's a little bit different, different, and I think that may be what we need. And it would be cool to have a woman president."
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington)
(Editing by Paul Simao)