Despite criticism from home, Bachmann a Republican starby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
Woodbury, Minn. — There's little question U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's star has been rising.
Bachmann, who is in her second term representing the 6th District, is a frequent guest on conservative talk shows. And earlier this year, she and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin drew a roaring crowd of 10,000 people to the Minneapolis Convention Center for a rally.
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The two women are at the forefront of the conservative movement.
Palin said at the rally that, "2010 is shaping up to be the year that conservative women get together and take back this country.
"And Michele is leading the stampede."
Palin and Bachmann have both seen their popularity rise with the tea party movement. Bachmann founded a tea party caucus in the U.S. House in July, when she celebrated its ideas at a press conference outside the Capitol.
"They believe we are taxed enough already, that the federal government shouldn't spend more money than it takes in, and that Congress should act within the constitutional limitations as given to us by the founding fathers," Bachmann said. "That is the banner we believe in."
Her celebrity stands in stark contrast to her first days in Congress.
As a wide-eyed freshman Congresswoman in 2006, Bachmann was amazed that she and her husband could walk straight into the White House.
"We felt like we were coming in from green acres to the big city, and here we were, and we weren't being hauled off," she told MPR News.
But at a bus tour in Woodbury in August, Bachmann seemed to be playing it both ways -- both as sophisticated celebrity and down-home gal.
Bachmann arrived late to the first stop at a bakery and alighted from her tour bus into an adoring throng of people, waving like a movie star.
She also worked the "local girl" angle, sporting a Joe Mauer jersey. She hugged her supporters one by one.
"Hi Joan, how are you?" she asked the baker's owner. "I'm so excited to meet you!"
Bachmann later served treats to reporters on her bus, greeting each one warmly. But the special access was largely limited to pleasantries. She took questions for just seven minutes.
Bachmann declined to be interviewed for this story.
Some of her media appearances have burned her. Local news organizations and the Pulitzer Prize-winning group PolitiFact.com have refuted some of her more provocative remarks, including a comment suggesting a link between Democratic presidencies and swine flu.
PolitiFact's team analyzed a sampling of 11 statements made by Bachmann since March 25, 2009. That includes her remarks suggesting a link between swine flu and Democratic presidencies and her argument that Social Security is running a deficit and borrowing from the Treasury. PolitiFact found that all of Bachmann's 11 statements were at least false, and five, including the swine flu remark, were given a "pants on Fire rating," the group reserves "for the most ridiculous falsehoods."
Bachmann has raised about $11 million so far, a new record for a congressional candidate. She's trying to fend off Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark, who has raised $4 million.
The congresswoman also has to deflect criticism that she is better at seeking the limelight than for helping out her constituents in the 6th District.
Some voters are wary.
"It seems that she likes attention, and not sure that's the best for the people of the state," said Nick Barbieri, Woodbury.
Barbieri, an independent voter, said at the Woodbury Days parade this summer that he wasn't sure whom to vote for in the 6th District. He expressed a common criticism that Bachmann seems more interested in cultivating a national reputation than representing her district.
"It's most important to know your constituents," he said. "She seems to have other plans."
Bachmann's camp denies that she's angling for higher political office.
In the House, she hasn't been able to accomplish much so far this term. She has successfully amended some legislation but hasn't authored any bills that were made into law.
Some experts say that's not entirely surprising for a congresswoman in the minority. But during an interview with the St. Cloud Times in February, Bachmann oddly blamed her lack of results on being a "newbie," even though she's in her second term.
"I'm in the deep minority in Congress and a fairly new freshman, so I don't have substantive bills I've been able to pass," Bachmann said. "I would love to."
But Bachmann said she's tried to help 6th District residents as an anti-tax, anti-government crusader, as she indicated during her bus tour:
"I've been a very strong voice in Washington, D.C. against this out-of-control spending, against the tax increases, and against deficit spending," she said. "I worked very, very hard on the health care bill to make sure we wouldn't have the government takeover of health care."
If Republicans take control of the U.S. House, and Bachmann wins re-election, she could get her chance to do more than just oppose the Democrats.
- Morning Edition, 10/25/2010, 6:20 a.m.