ABC’s Russell Goldman and Shushannah Walshe report:
ORANGE CITY, Iowa – GOP contender Michele Bachmann kicked off a whirlwind tour of Iowa today, pledging to visit all 99 of the state’s counties in 10 days, in the hopes that an old-fashioned ground assault here will help her gain in the polls just 20 days before the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
The bus tour comes on the heels of a Fox News Channel debate that aired last night in Sioux City, where the Minnesota congresswoman gave a strong performance, repeatedly attacking frontrunner Newt Gingrich for not being conservative enough.
That message, that she is the “consistent conservative,” unwavering on social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, was her primary message on the first day of a grueling tour.
At each of her first three stops on Friday, Bachmann asked, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” echoing a question Ronald Reagan asked on the stump in 1980.
Bachmann said she was ready to go “toe-to-toe” with President Obama in a debate, attempting to allay fears that she doesn’t have the heft or debate skills of frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Bachmann started the tour with an attack on Gingrich, who questioned the accuracy of statements she made in Thursday’s debate. More than Romney, Bachmann appears to hope that Gingrich’s voters could turn to her in January and she has been unrelenting in her assault on the former House speaker.
“Well, this wasn’t the first time it happened,” she said this morning in Sioux City, addressing Gingrich’s comments. “He had made those accusations before that my facts weren’t right, but the fact is my facts were right and he did not have an answer for the $1.6 million he took to bring about undue influence regarding Freddie Mac. That’s a very serious issue and then also on partial birth abortion as well. This is a top issue for the Republican Party. It’s one that we certainly can’t get wrong and I am not a student of his. I am a serious candidate for the presidency, and I think it’s important that I be treated as an equal on that stage.”
Flanked by a small group of supporters and dressed in cropped pants and shoes with her ankles exposed on a frigid Northwest Iowa day, she said she’ s the candidate to beat Barack Obama.
“I have lived this life and I think everyone realized that I’m the genuine article, and just like in 1980 we needed a Ronald Reagan to give a stark contrast to Jimmy Carter, we need a stark contrast with Barack Obama and I think I best represent that Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher legacy, and that’s what I intend to be for our nominee,” Bachmann said.
Bachmann repeatedly invoked Reagan and Thatcher in her stump speeches Friday. At one event a supporter carried a signed that read, “Michele Bachmann, Our Iron Lady.”
Asked about the endorsement of influential South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican and woman who today backed Mitt Romney, Bachmann said she “would have loved to have had her endorsement, but I am getting endorsements from people in the legislature, but most importantly from tea partiers and evangelicals and pastors and people all across the state of South Carolina.”
Bachmann was joined on the road by husband Marcus Bachmann. At her second stop, in Le Mars, Marcus said that as “first gentleman” he’d devote himself to fostering families and setting an example to fathers.
Bachmann’s first day included 10 stops and visits to four counties.
Her goal, she said, was to “meet as many Iowans as we can. We are going to be full of vitality. I think we are going to take our vitamins when we wake up in the morning and just go, go, go, stop after stop.”