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Posted at 10:49 AM ET, 02/10/2011

Bachmann kicks off CPAC with call for conservatives to unify

By Amy Gardner

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) kicked off the conservative movement's biggest annual party in Washington Thursday morning by exhorting all conservatives - those focused on fiscal, social and national security issues - to come together to continue Republican electoral gains in 2012.

Bachmann, a popular star within the tea party movement and a regular name on the roster of potential Republican presidential contenders next year, gave no clues as to her intentions in 2012 in the opening speech of the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday.

But she did declare that conservative unity is the only way to win what she called the "Triple Crown" next year - retaining the House of Representatives, regaining Republican control of the U.S. Senate and relegating President Obama to a single term.

"For our conservative coalition to be victorious in 2012, it will take every one of us and then some pulling together to bring the three legs of this conservative stool together," Bachmann said, bringing conference-goers to their feet in a cavernous hall at the Marriott Wardman Park.

"I believe in the three-legged stool. I believe in this coalition that is our winning combination. I believe you are incredibly talented. I believe you are motivated for 2012. I believe we can do this."

Bachmann's rousing speech came at a time when conservatives are divided over what issues should take precedence on the national political stage. That division was evident in the days leading up to this year's CPAC gathering, which was boycotted by some groups focused on social issues because of the planned attendance by GOProud, a pro-gay Republican group.

The boycott has caused plenty of pre-conference buzz, but it hasn't hampered overall attendance, which organizers expect to crest at 11,000 - the largest in the conference's 38 years. And it's not likely to shift the heavy focus on fiscal issues evident on the conference's three-day agenda, which includes sessions on passing a balanced budget amendment and the rise of the tea party movement and speeches from some of the movement's biggest stars, including newly seated U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

More than half the conference's attendees are students - and many of those students are more focused on fiscal issues than social ones. Sam Lee, 19, of Bristol, Conn., said he's a loyal Republican but is definitely more focused on fiscal than social issues.

"It's a bunch of different aspects of the conservative movement coming together, and it's good to see it all in one place," said Lee, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. "But that doesn't mean I share all of the views of the party."

Even Bachmann, despite her pledge of loyalty to all three legs of conservatism, focused primarily on fiscal issues and regulatory reform during her 30-minute speech. She spoke vehemently against the federal health-care overhaul: "It's the driving motivation of my life. The first breath I take every morning is to repeal Obamacare."

She also railed against federal spending: "And now we're being asked to raise the debt ceiling again." And she railed against U.S. energy policy: "We are sitting on a gold mine here in the United States. We are the Saudi Arabia right here in the United States. it's just illegal to access it."

Bachmann was the first in a three-day roster of speeches that later Thursday will feature former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former senator Rick Santorum and New York businessman Donald Trump. On Friday and Saturday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels are scheduled to speak.

By Amy Gardner  | February 10, 2011; 10:49 AM ET
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