ST. PAUL  (AP) - Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has told social conservatives not to let up as the 2012 election draws closer.

The likely presidential candidate spread a message of perseverance to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. She highlighted her early role in pursuing a Minnesota ballot initiative banning gay marriage, which voters will decide next year. "Never despise small beginnings," Bachmann told the crowd.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a declared presidential candidate, was due to speak Friday evening.

Bachmann has said she'll announce her intentions this month in Iowa. Her speech also included a prayer in which she said "our nation hangs precariously in the balance."

The group staging the conference is headed by Ralph Reed, an influential figure in conservative circles and a veteran of presidential campaigns.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)