Profile: Michele Bachmannby Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — During the 2010 campaign, Rep. Michele Bachmann's opponent sent a fundraising e-mail to supporters warning Bachmann "could be a presidential candidate in 2012."
In August of that year, it seemed unlikely that the suburban Twin Cities lawmaker turned politician would run; after all, her political career was barely 10 years old at the time.
Less than a year later, Bachmann announced her run for the White House. In her June 27 2011 speech in Iowa, Bachmann summed up her political ideology in a few sentences.
"My voice is part of a movement to take back our country, and now I want to take that voice to the White House," she said. "It is the voice of constitutional conservatives who want our government to do its job and not ours, and who want our government to live within its means and not our children's and grandchildren's."
Bachmann was born in Waterloo, Iowa, but moved to Minnesota when she was in sixth grade.
She frequently points out that she was raised a Democrat, and even worked to elect Jimmy Carter in 1976. Disappointed with how Carter's "big spending liberal majority grew government," she became a Republican.
Bachmann completed her undergraduate degree at Winona State University, and got her law degree from Oral Roberts University. She did additional legal training in tax law at William and Mary University. She and her husband own Christian counseling clinics in Lake Elmo and Burnsville.
Regularly, Bachmann points out that her life experience has shaped her political ideology. She said five years working as an IRS tax attorney influenced her view that taxes should be minimal; opening her home to 23 foster children in addition to her five children influenced Bachmann's advocacy for foster and adopted children; and her faith made her staunchly pro-life.
But it was her involvement in school board issues in Stillwater that launched her political career.
"When I saw the problems with our local school district and how academic excellence was being eroded by federal government interferences with the local schools, I decided to do more than just complain about it," she said in her announcement speech.
In 2000, Bachmann ran for the state Senate and defeated a longtime Republican incumbent in a primary challenge before winning the general election.
The episode was classic Bachmann, said state GOP chair Tony Sutton.
"The way she got elected to the state Senate and the first time she was endorsed - it was very spontaneous," he told MPR in June 2011. "I mean, she shows up in jeans and a sweatshirt and takes out an 18-year Republican senator and beats him in the primary."
In the Minnesota Senate, Bachmann earned a reputation as a social conservative unrelenting in her unsuccessful effort to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage. She served in the minority for her entire tenure, and during her six years as a state senator from 2000-2006, she successfully authored only eight bills.
Her record in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she's served since 2007 representing the most solidly Republican district in Minnesota, is similarly sparse, with only three resolutions, which are not legally binding, and a few amendments passed by her chamber.
In 2010, Bachmann defended her skimpy record to the St. Cloud Times, saying, "I'm deep in the minority in Congress and a fairly new freshman, so I don't have substantive bills I've been able to pass."
Yet her profile has risen steadily since she arrived in Washington, in part because of her regular appearances on cable TV.
She's been one of the loudest opponents of President Barack Obama's overhaul of the health care system, and what she perceives as runaway government spending and power.
In that regard, her record has been consistent in Minnesota and in Washington: her legislative focus has been largely on deregulation, taxes and social issues. She is the founder the House Tea Party Caucus, which has amassed 60 members since 2010.
Bachmann has had difficulty penetrating the GOP's inner circle in Washington. After Republicans took control of the House in the 2010 elections, Bachmann made an unsuccessful bid to become House Republican Conference chair, the fourth highest ranking spot in the caucus. Instead, the GOP chose a more establishment and longer serving member.
She's known for delivering a consistently controversial stream of statements. For instance, in 2008, Bachmann made headlines by suggesting that Obama had un-American views and that members of Congress should be investigated, a comment that prompted a flood of campaign donations for her opponent. Still, she won re-election.
Bachmann's facts have frequently been called into question. The national fact-checking site PolitiFact has found that 19 of the 29 Bachmann statements they've investigated are false. MPR's PoliGraph has found six of nine claims false or misleading.
BACHMANN ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Since Bachmann declared her candidacy, she's been rising steadily in the polls. A July 27, 2011 Gallup survey showed Bachmann's support among Republicans rose from 7 percent to 18 percent in a month. She's especially popular among members of the Tea Party.
She's also a fundraising powerhouse, a quality the GOP establishment can't ignore. During her 2010 re-election bid, Bachmann raised more than $13.5 million, more than any other incumbent member of Congress in the country.
But while Bachmann champions smaller government, she has benefited from government spending. Several news outlets have reported that Bachmann and her husband received farm subsidies, Medicaid payments and a federally-backed home loan.
Bachmann also proved an interesting foil for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the other Minnesota Republican who made a presidential bid. (Pawlenty has since dropped out of the race.)
For years, Pawlenty methodically laid the groundwork for his campaign; out of the blue, Bachmann burst on to the scene and outperformed Pawlenty in the polls.
An ideologue committed to conservative values, not a policy insider like Pawlenty, may be precisely what voters are looking for in 2012, Washington University professor Steven Smith told MPR in June 2011.
"The question is not so much whether she's a master of the deals of public policy," Smith said.
(MPR's Annie Baxter, Tim Pugmire and Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report)