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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann drew a rousing reception from Republicans at their California convention on Friday, raising hopes the Tea Party favorite might be able to put a faltering campaign back in gear.
Bachmann, who received a standing ovation when she took the podium in Los Angeles, touched on everything from taxes to healthcare in a rambling address, but it was her championing of small business as the backbone of the economy that resonated with an affluent, friendly crowd.
"This is what sets me apart," she told a dinner crowd at the Los Angeles convention center in a newly revitalized downtown area. "I'm a congressman but I'm not a politician."
"I am a real person who spent her life in the private sector. I've seen how devastating taxes are ... I've seen how tough it is to start a business."
Bachmann, trailing three-term Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination to run against President Barack Obama in 2012, is fighting to make a comeback.
She has stumbled badly of late. Top advisers have resigned, her poll numbers are back-sliding and she has not attracted the big donors she needs to mount a credible campaign against Obama -- especially when pitted against fund-raising machine Romney.
Just this week, the former tax lawyer and spokeswoman for the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement ignited a furor after saying a vaccine for the cervical cancer-causing human papillomavirus was dangerous. Scientists have roundly disagreed.
On Friday, she did not mention her rival Republicans. But she wasted no time laying into Obama's healthcare and foreign policies. She argued the U.S. jobs picture was at its worst in 66 years, while housing prices remained in a tailspin.
"She's my first choice amongst all the Republican candidates," said Kathleen Evans, who sells instructional dance videos online and paid more than $100 to attend. "She has enough government experience to be president, but I like the fact that she's a small business owner ... and a family person."
A fiscal, social and religious conservative, Bachmann in 2006 became the first Republican woman elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota. In August, she became also the first woman to win the Iowa straw poll, a key early test of strength among party presidential candidates.
"We will take the country back in 2012, and we will make Obama a one-term president," she said in Los Angeles.
It has been a dramatic fall for Bachmann, who performed well in the first major Republican debate in June but has seen support drop since Perry entered the race last month, taking away some of the social conservatives who had flocked to her.
Bachmann's strong views have helped her in states like Iowa dominated by social conservatives, but may not appeal to more moderate Republicans.
Her immediate challenge is to raise enough money to have a credible showing by the time third-quarter fund-raising figures are released in mid-October. Beyond that, she has to win the country's first election contest of the Republican race to pick up a presidential nominee -- the Iowa caucuses on February 6.
"I was impressed by her energy and the leadership she showed," said businessman Larry Greenfield. "I thought she was thorough, thoughtful ... and terrific."
Editing by Peter Henderson