Bachmann's Last-Ditch Pitch to the Religious Right

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Her campaign tanking, the Minnesota congresswoman is returning to the wedge issues that launched her as a politician

Faced with a slide into near-irrelevance in the Republican presidential race, Michele Bachmann is playing her last card: a hard pitch for the votes of Christian conservatives.

Bachmann posted a web video Thursday touting her support for "protecting life and traditional marriage." Near-simultaneously, her congressional office announced she's introducing a bill in the House aimed at limiting abortion rights. Earlier in the week, she held a conference call touting her "pro-family" views with a national social-conservative group.

The moves seem to amount to a last-ditch strategy to bolster her faltering campaign with a pitch based on some of the right's most potent wedge issues.

"I have fought for life from the statehouse to the U.S. Congress. I've led the charge as a champion for traditional marriage," Bachmann says in the video her campaign uploaded to YouTube Thursday. "And as president, I want you to know, I'll fight for life and for marriage, because we can have a president who believes in the power of prayer -- a president who is steadfast on the values of marriage and faith."

Meanwhile, Bachmann announced in a news release from her congressional office that she was introducing legislation that would require women seeking abortions to first view ultrasounds that include an audible fetal heartbeat.

"A pregnant woman who enters an abortion clinic is faced with a decision that will forever change two lives," Bachmann said in a statement about the so-called Heartbeat Informed Consent Act, which has the support of anti-abortion groups as well as the Family Research Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "That's why she must have the very best information with which to make that decision."

And on Tuesday, she held a conference call with activists from Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition in which she reiterated her determination to reinstate "don't ask, don't tell" in the military. "We also believe that God has a design for marriage between one man and one woman," Bachmann said, according to the Minnesota Independent.

While Bachmann rose to early prominence as a Minnesota state legislator with appeals to faith issues, particularly opposition to same-sex marriage, she's largely downplayed those concerns in her presidential campaign, which has focused instead on an economic message. In the run-up to the Ames straw poll in August, for example, her television ads touted her steadfast opposition to raising the debt ceiling.

The economic message was in tune with voters' top concern -- but it was also an attempt to convince voters the three-term congresswoman was a serious national candidate capable of handling dire economic times as president despite her thin resume.

Now, however, Bachmann's presidential bid is in dire straits. A recent Washington Post poll found her pulling just 4 percent of the national GOP vote. Her campaign has seen a staff exodus and is reportedly having trouble fundraising. Her seeming embrace of the debunked belief that vaccines can lead to retardation has been widely derided, and she was barely a factor in the last Republican debate.

Even as Rick Perry, the Texas governor who entered the race the same day Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, has faded, Bachmann hasn't been the beneficiary. Instead, it's Herman Cain -- a preacher and businessman who shares her appeal to the tea party and religious conservatives -- who has risen in recent national polling.

Bachmann's advisers acknowledge her campaign strategy has narrowed to a single-minded focus on the Iowa caucuses, where religious conservative voters make up a large share of the electorate. She's also one of the many presidential candidates scheduled to address the Values Voters Summit taking place in Washington on Friday and Saturday.

Once, Bachmann feared being pigeonholed as the candidate of the religious right. Now it seems she can only wish that's what she were.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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