By John Whitesides
LYNCHBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, struggling to reverse a slide in opinion polls, told evangelical Christians on Wednesday that she would be "the comeback kid" in the nomination race.
During a stop at Liberty University, Bachmann shrugged off her recent campaign troubles and vowed to turn around her White House bid with a heavy focus on conservative Iowa and South Carolina.
"We intend to be the comeback kid in this race," Bachmann told reporters after a speech at Liberty, which bills itself as the largest evangelical Christian university and is a frequent stop for presidential candidates.
"In races you have ups and downs, and we are on the upswing now," she said. "We have a very strong base of support in Iowa, we're going to continue to build on that base of support, and we've spent a lot of time in South Carolina too."
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who stresses her evangelical faith and conservative principles, has slumped in polls in the last month after winning the Iowa straw poll on the same day rival Rick Perry joined the Republican race for the right to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
The two Republican candidates appeal to the same bloc of religious and social conservatives who play an influential role in early nominating states like Iowa and South Carolina.
But Bachmann could benefit from growing conservative doubts about Texas Governor Perry, who leads in opinion polls but has come under fire for his views on immigration and a vaccination he ordered for young girls against a sexually transmitted virus.
Bachmann, founder of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and an early supporter of the movement to reduce spending and government, said Republicans were looking for a strong fiscal, social and Tea Party conservative.
"I represent that full package," she told reporters.
The stop at Liberty, where she won a recent straw poll of students, was an chance to bolster her appeal to religious conservatives. She urged about 10,000 students at a convocation to stand up against the federal overhaul of healthcare, called Obamacare by critics, and fight for their beliefs.
"This is an election of all elections, when we have the opportunity to turn the nation around," she told the students.
"We need to stand up to the government takeover of one sixth of our economy with Obamacare. We need to stand up to the federal government taking over private companies."
She told students of her own personal experience discovering religion at the age of 16, when she "radically abandoned myself to Jesus Christ," and urged them not to settle for less in their lives or in politics.
Bachmann was the fifth of this year's Republican presidential candidates to visit Liberty, which was founded in 1971 by conservative Christian leader Jerry Falwell.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of Liberty University's founder and now its chancellor, said Bachmann was particularly popular with students at the school because "she's kind of one of us."
"Our students consider her one of us because of her background and positions on Tea Party issues and social issues," Falwell told reporters.
(Editing by Eric Beech)