By Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann hit back at a Republican rival on Sunday, saying her experience with the conservative Tea Party movement made her uniquely qualified to trim down Washington.
Bachmann, the Minnesota representative who has emerged as a serious contender for her party's 2012 presidential nomination, said ex-Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was off-base to suggest she lacked the credentials to take over the White House.
"I have a lifetime record of success and action in the real world," Bachmann said in a statement from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she is campaigning ahead of the August 13 Iowa straw poll, which is a key test of strength for Republican presidential candidates in the early voting state.
Bachmann, a former tax lawyer who heads the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, contrasted her record opposing "irresponsible spending" in Congress with what she called Pawlenty's tenure as governor backing bloated programs and "leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota."
"Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government," she said, in her first strong rebuke of Pawlenty's repeated jabs at her record, a sign that their competition over Iowa is heating up.
Democrats have been accusing Pawlenty of leaving Minnesota deep in deficit, a charge the Pawlenty campaign has denied.
"I have demonstrated leadership and the courage of my convictions to change Washington, stop wasteful spending, lower taxes, put Americans back to work and turn our economy around," Bachmann said.
The congresswoman stands to be a frontrunner in the straw poll, which will also include Pawlenty as well as Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Thaddeus McCotter, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
Pawlenty, behind in public opinion polls and needing a high finish in the straw poll, departed from his mind-mannered approach last week and said Bachmann's "record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent."
"We're not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities, we're looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion," he said, ushering in a more aggressive tone of campaigning.
(Editing by Paul Simao)