U.S. presidential candidate says hurricane comments just a joke

MIAMI Mon Aug 29, 2011 8:03pm BST

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Michele Bachmann speaks during a rally in Florence, South Carolina August 18, 2011. REUTERS/Maryann Chastain

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Michele Bachmann speaks during a rally in Florence, South Carolina August 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Maryann Chastain

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MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said on Monday she was only joking when she described Hurricane Irene and last week's earthquake in the eastern United States as a warning from God.

"Of course I was being humorous when I said that. It would be absurd to think it was anything else. I have a great sense of humour," Bachmann said during a campaign stop in Miami.

Her visit to the Versailles restaurant, a Cuban exile favourite in Miami's Little Havana neighbourhood, was punctuated by crashing thunder, lightning and rain showers.

The Minnesota congresswoman, who has gained media prominence for her fiery attacks on Democratic President Barack Obama, said a day earlier in Florida that Irene was an act of God to get politicians' attention to Washington's debt and deficit problem.

Irene killed at least 21 people and cut power to 5 million homes and businesses along its path up the eastern seaboard from North Carolina. Vermont was battling the state's worst flooding since 1927 after Irene swept through as a tropical storm late on Sunday.

A rare earthquake also rocked the East Coast last week.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'" Bachmann said at a campaign event in Sarasota, Florida on Sunday.

"Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending," she said.

Bachmann, among the top three candidates expected to win the Republican nomination and take on Obama next year, made similar comments elsewhere in Florida on Saturday, drawing some laughs from her audience.

Bachmann is a favourite of the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement and of religious social conservatives, but recent Republican presidential contender polls have shown her lagging behind Texas Governor Rick Perry and moderate Mitt Romney, who appeals to the party's business wing.

Bachmann has made a series of gaffes on the campaign trail, including mixing up Elvis' birthday with the anniversary of his death in a speech. During the 2008 election campaign she said Obama may hold "anti-American views" but later stepped back from the statement.

(Additional reporting by Todd Melby in Minneapolis; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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