By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
WATERLOO, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said Monday she was not arguing that a vaccine intended to prevent cervical cancer caused mental retardation when she repeated the scientifically unfounded claim last week.
The Minnesota congresswoman said she was relaying what a distraught woman told her after a GOP presidential debate in Florida in which Bachmann criticized rival Rick Perry for ordering the vaccine in Texas.
"All I was doing is relaying what a woman had said," Bachmann told The Associated Press after touring a manufacturer in Waterloo. "I relayed what she said. I wasn't attesting to her accuracy. I wasn't attesting to anything."
During the debate, Bachmann accused Perry, the governor of Texas, of abusing his authority by signing a 2007 executive order requiring school-age girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer. After the debate, she described an encounter with a woman she says approached her.
"There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine," Bachmann said on Fox News. "She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences."
Perry said he erred by not seeking legislative approval but stood by the aim of preventing cancer. Campaigning in Iowa last week, he said Bachmann's comment after the debate was unwise "when she had no scientific backing, to say the very least."
Bachmann has criticized Perry in recent weeks, in hopes of reviving her struggling presidential bid. His entry into the race in mid-August halted her ascent after she had won the Iowa Straw Poll, an important test vote. The state's presidential caucuses begin the nominating process.
In Sheffield on Monday, Bachmann criticized Perry's opposition to building a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border and his support for in-state tuition benefits for children of illegal immigrants.
"I do not believe that American taxpayers should be subsidizing benefits for people who are in this country illegally or for their children," she said.
Bachmann was visiting manufacturing plants in northern Iowa to emphasize the issue of jobs. She found herself answering questions from reporters about comments by her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins. Rollins said Monday that Bachmann had little capacity to compete beyond Iowa, compared to Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, if she did not do well in the state's caucuses.
"She doesn't have the ability or resources to go beyond Iowa at this point in time, where Perry and Romney, with lots of money, can go into South Carolina, Arizona, Florida and other places," Rollins told MSNBC.
Bachmann, who was scheduled to campaign Tuesday in Des Moines, said she is focused on Iowa. She declined to say whether she could compete beyond Iowa should she fail to win the caucuses.
"Iowa is our top priority and we intend to win Iowa," she told the AP.