Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) speaks at the 38th annual Conservative… (Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — Rep. Michele Bachmann on Thursday opened up a three-day CPAC gathering of the nation's conservatives by celebrating the achievements of the "tea party" movement and warning of the policies of the Obama administration, saying that the president had "ushered in socialism."
Greeted by a raucous crowd, Bachmann, a tea-party favorite, said the movement had upended establishment Washington. "If there was ever a time to make a change, this was it and you did it," she told a packed hotel ballroom. This weekend, she said, "we're going to party."
Bachmann, a Minnesota conservative said to harbor presidential aspirations, is one of several possible 2012 GOP candidates who will address the convention, the Conservative Political Action Conference. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will speak later Thursday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are also expected to be among the speakers, as well as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Neither Sarah Palin nor Mike Huckabee is expected to attend.
The choice of Bachmann as the keynote speaker for the event signaled the degree to which the center of gravity in the conservative wing of the GOP has shifted toward the tea party. David Keene, the outgoing chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC, said as much in his introductory remarks.
"The story of the last two years has been an awakening," Keene said. The focus of the conference, he said, would be "on those people in the process of changing the world. These are our new allies."
Tea-party-backed senators such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah will be featured speakers at the conference, and Rep. Allen West of Florida will deliver the closing address Saturday evening.
Some 11,000 conservative activists are expected to attend the event.
In her address, Bachmann warned of the spiraling federal debt and blamed President Obama's policies for hampering an economic recovery. "Socialism kills job creation," Bachmann said. "The only jobs that are being created are in government."
She also told the crowd that their work was not finished, noting that the GOP is four seats away from taking control of the Senate along with the House. "We have to win a conservative Senate," she said, adding "not just a Republican Senate."
She also flashed some humor, noting a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit that mocked her for staring into the wrong camera during a response she gave last month on behalf of the tea party to the State of the Union address.
At the start of her speech, she stared directly ahead and said, "Someone told me I needed to find the right camera."