MIAMI — Michele Bachmann became the first major Republican presidential candidate to barnstorm the state this year, capping a six-city tour Monday in Miami where she sipped cafecitos, paid homage to Cuban Americans and kicked off a month of intensive GOP politicking in the state.
"We're going to be all over Florida because Florida chooses presidents. You choose presidents,"' Bachmann told dozens of supporters and onlookers at Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana.
"I want to win Florida twice with your help: Once in the primary and then the general," she said. "And that's how we will make Barack Obama a one-term president."
That last line, the de facto trademark of the fiery Minnesota congresswoman, was repeated word for word by the crowd.
But is it likely that she'll be the one to topple Obama?
A recent Mason-Dixon Research and Associates poll of Republican voters showed she's running in third place in Florida, the nation's largest swing state. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney garners about 28 percent of the Republican vote with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in close contention with 21 percent. Bachmann's support: 13 percent.
In a theoretical head-to-head matchup, both Bachmann and Perry are essentially tied with Obama, while only Romney has a clear lead.
All the big-name candidates will blanket Florida in the coming weeks.
On Sept. 12, CNN hosts a Tampa debate with a tea party group. Then, from Sept. 22-24, the Republican Party of Florida holds a FOX debate and straw poll in Orlando that bookend a Conservative Political Action Conference featuring most of the candidates.
Along with the Mason-Dixon survey, Gallup Poll's nationwide surveys show the Republican race increasingly looks like a contest between Romney and Perry, with Ron Paul in the hunt.
Gallup's polls indicate Bachmann is losing support, in part due to Perry, who gains the lion's share of the tea-party vote.
Bachmann's Florida tour — with stops in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Naples and Miami — is sure to have some effect. She was greeted with energized crowds and multiple television cameras everywhere.
In Miami, Bachmann frequently paid tribute to Cuban-Americans, who comprise more than 70 percent of the registered Republicans in Miami-Dade, the largest Republican county in the state.
Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker cautioned against reading too much into the polls at this point, but he noted the political winds favor Perry and Romney.
"The X-factor is whether Perry's a flash in the pan, or a flavor of the month," he said. "Bachmann is starting to look like a flavor of the month."
Coker noted that Perry "could blow up tomorrow. He could say something stupid." And "Bachmann is like Perry," he said, having committed gaffes about the sites of revolutionary battles, the birthday of Elvis and the birthplace of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Bachmann spent a little time Monday clearing up a few statements, such as her line that the recent hurricane and earthquake were evidence of the fact that God is trying to "get the attention of the politicians. … He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' "
Bachmann on Monday said "it would be absurd and ridiculous to think" that she was pretending to know what God was thinking; she was just joking.
"If you know me, you know that I am a person who loves humor. I have a great sense of humor. And I think it's important to exhibit that humor sometimes when you're talking to a person as well," she said at Versailles after sipping Cuban coffee with her House colleague, Miami Rep. David Rivera. "I was being humorous when I said that because the American people have tried very hard to get the president's attention. He is not listening. And that was really the message."
Also, Bachmann explained her comments on whether she supports oil-and-gas exploration in the Everglades.
"Actually, what I have spoken about is the fact that God has so blessed the United States with natural energy resources. I haven't said specifically that we should be accessing energy there," she said.
"The American people are saying: Let's access this wonderful treasure trove of energy that God has given to us in this country. Let's access it responsibly. That's the answer. If we can access energy responsibly, we do it. If we can't, we don't. It's that simple."
Bachmann was rewarded with "drill baby drill!" crowd calls.
In her stump speech, Bachmann dwelled on the economy. She said she wanted to eliminate corporate taxes and hailed Miami state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera for the Legislature's decision to start cutting Florida's corporate-tax rate. She called for fewer environmental regulations and bashed Obama for cutting Medicare in his health care plan — though she supported a House plan this year that also trims Medicare spending. Bachmann said little about immigration.
Later, Bachmann had a private appointment with former Gov. Jeb Bush and she spoke to Spanish-language radio host Ninoska Pérez-Castellón on WAQI-AM (710), better known as Radio Mambí. Bachmann said this is her first visit to Florida as a candidate.
"The first place I visited in Miami was the Bay of Pigs museum. I did that because the Cuban-Americans represent fighters for liberty," Bachmann said.
"And I think one of the greatest persons that we have seen recently who is a fighter for liberty is a Cuban, Dr. (Oscar) Biscet," Bachmann said. "He went to prison for 11 years because he knew Castro was trying to abort late-term babies. This was a terrible thing that Castro did, but Dr. Biscet stood up for women and babies. And Dr. Biscet wants to unite Cubans for freedom."
At the Bay of Pigs Museum, Bachmann praised the work of museum director Felix Rodriguez, a former CIA operative who appears in the last photo of revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara before he was killed in 1967.
Rodriguez said he wasn't backing any candidate. But he appreciated Bachmann's visit.
"We're honored," he said.
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report