NORTH CONWAY, N.H.—Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann said Sunday that her unsuccessful fight against raising the federal debt ceiling kept her away from New Hampshire for nearly four months, but she's still committed to winning over voters in the key early primary state.
Before starting a four-day bus trip Sunday, the Minnesota congresswoman had only campaigned in New Hampshire once since announcing her campaign in late June. Speaking to a small but enthusiastic group at a North Conway restaurant, she blamed the debt ceiling debate for her absence.
Bachmann last visited the state June 28. The vote on raising the debt ceiling happened Aug. 2.
"You didn't see me a lot here in New Hampshire and I'll tell you why: It's because my first duty was to go back to Washington, D.C.," she said.
The latest WMUR Granite State poll, released last week, put Bachmann's support among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters at just 2 percent, down from 12 percent in early July. In the earlier poll, she was in second place behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who remains first in the latest poll as well.
Despite those numbers, Bachmann told reporters that she "absolutely" will compete in the primary.
"Of course we're going to be here," she said. "We had a wonderful relationship when we were here earlier this summer with the people of New Hampshire, and I'm coming back to remind people about my pro-growth message. I'm committed to the Live Free or Die state, to the principles of the Live Free or Die state."
Ray Shakir, 62, of North Conway, said he's deciding between Bachmann, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Atlanta businessman Herman Cain.
"I'm certainly enamored of how she speaks with enthusiasm," he said after quizzing Bachmann about what approach she'd use in nominating Supreme Court justices.
Shakir said he doesn't mind that Bachmann hasn't spent much time in New Hampshire because he "tries to look at it from a national perspective." But he doesn't think she has much hope of winning the primary.
"I think, unfortunately, Romney's got it sewn up," he said.
At a smaller outdoor gathering in Moultonborough later, New Hampshire Republican National Committeewoman Phyllis Woods asked Bachmann to weigh in on the scramble by states to set their primary and caucus dates. New Hampshire's secretary of state has yet to set a date, but the state is getting squeezed by other states that have moved up their contests.
New Hampshire typically follows Iowa's leadoff caucus by eight days. But with Iowa's date tentatively set for Jan. 3, and Nevada set to caucus Jan. 14, New Hampshire may leap into December.
Bachmann, describing her record of taking on tough challenges, said that would be fine with her.
"I'm up for it sooner rather than later, so if you all want (the primary) in December, I'm up for it in December," she said.
"All I know is, I want to be your Number 1. I want to be your sweetheart here in New Hampshire, so I'm going to be here competing and hopefully successfully for that spot. The states can do what they like. ... I will follow whatever law and whatever rule New Hampshire comes up with."