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York Co. pastors impressed by, not sold on Bachmann

Michele Bachmann dropped by for a swift visit with York County pastors Thursday before heading out for a full day of campaigning across South Carolina - a key early primary for Republican presidential hopefuls.

The closed-door event was by invitation only - something religious leaders usually request, Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart said.

"We're spending a lot of time in South Carolina ...a crucial state in winning the presidency," Bachmann said after the meeting, on her way to rallies in Columbia and Florence. "We're delighted with all the people we're meeting across Rock Hill."

It was her second visit to York County. In June, she held a public campaign event at Winthrop University.

The Minnesota congresswoman returns to the state after her straw poll victory last weekend in Iowa - another important early primary state in the race for the GOP nomination.

Bachmann's campaign bus - big and blue and covered in logos - drove up to Laurel Creek's Magnolia Room on Thursday morning about 15 minutes late and stayed running while she was inside meeting with about 50 people, including area pastors and local leaders.

Those admitted to the meeting told The Herald Bachmann discussed her faith, her life and topics ranging from foreign policy and the economy to education and reforming the tax code.

No one The Herald spoke to had thrown his full support behind Bachmann, but she left an impression on many.

Tony Caruso, a chaplain and bereavement coordinator for Hospice & Community Care in Rock Hill, said he liked Bachmann's intelligence and warmth.

Caruso, who describes himself as a political conservative with centrist leanings, said he's looking for someone whose ideas are "down the middle of the road," or someone who tells what they really think, even if he disagrees.

He came to see for himself about Bachmann, who seemed to be "far right," he said, but warm, genuine and concerned about people.

Bachmann also impressed York County Councilman Eric Winstead, a Baptist chaplain, though he hasn't decided which GOP candidate he prefers. Her ideas about tax reform and reserving the military for defense, not going on the offense, resonated with Winstead.

Her faith would inform her leadership and decision-making, Winstead said. She discussed home-schooling and her anti-abortion values, among other topics, he said.

On whether she could lead a divided government, Winstead said her ability to say what she thinks "may benefit her in the environment we're in right now. People get tired of the same old political speeches."

Rough trails

Maurice Revell, senior pastor at "The Well" Agape International Ministries in Rock Hill, said it's unfortunate politicians such as Bachmann get painted "into such a tight space" that they're unable to change their minds on issues.

Bachmann might have said some things she'd like to rephrase, Revell said, but her willingness to share her beliefs openly is admirable - whether he agrees with her politically or not.

Bachmann's history of mixing up facts and sharing controversial views on homosexuality, slavery and other issues while in the spotlight has landed her in tight spots.

The Bachmann campaign's difficulty with the media has at times surpassed the written word.

The political news website Politico has characterized Bachmann's staff as "bouncers," having "unusually hostile" physical confrontations with reporters in five different incidents.

Before Bachmann arrived in Rock Hill, campaign staff already on scene were friendly but on guard, asking the two reporters present to remain behind a row of chairs in a parking lot otherwise empty of people.

One guard told The Herald they were being cautious because of incidents between Bachmann's aides and reporters at other stops. They weren't the rough, physical confrontations the media made them out to be, he said.

When Bachmann emerged from the meeting, she met with the reporters at the bus door for about a minute before her press secretary rushed her onto the bus.

David Taylor, who asks celebrities for their autographs and sells them, waited for a chance to approach Bachmann on Thursday. He had tried Wednesday in Charlotte, he said, but her security wouldn't allow him to approach her, which surprised the 27-year-old from Lake Norman.

Candidates usually want to "shake hands" and "kiss babies," Taylor said.

Keeping reporters at bay could be a strategy, especially for the candidate who has had a difficult time with the media, said Karen Kedrowski, chairwoman of Winthrop University's political science department.

It allows her to better control her message, avoiding confrontations about the more radical ideas Bachmann has shared publicly, and shape the public face she puts forward, Kedrowski said.

Bachmann returned a call from The Herald later Thursday and spoke for a couple of minutes, quickly answering questions about what she discussed with the pastors.

Though she shared her life story with pastors in the meeting, she said, the pastors' questions were really about jobs and the economy.

Her next challenge on the campaign trail is to meet as many people as she can in South Carolina and let them know she understands the economy and plans on defeating President Barack Obama, she said before an aide ended the call.