Bachmann's political career: from school issues to presidential run

Michele Bachmann
Then-Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., expresses appreciation as she puts on a gift from a supporter during her presidential campaign.
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

After six years in the Minnesota Senate, seven years in the U.S. House of Representatives and a bid for the White House, 6th Congressional District Rep. Michele Bachmann is calling it quits.

"After serious consideration, I am confident this is the right decision," Bachmann said in a video sent out to supporters in the wee hours of the morning.

Read more about Bachmann's decision

The announcement is an about-face for Bachmann, who just two years ago was poised to launch her bid for president, a campaign that would have brought her conservative brand of political ideology to the national stage.

BACHMANN'S ROOTS

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.

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Regularly, Bachmann underscores how her life experience shaped her politics. 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 former 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."

LEGISLATIVE RECORD

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 2001-2007, 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.

Instead of posting a record of legislative accomplishments, Bachmann has become the standard bearer for the Tea Party, founding the House Tea Party Caucus and serving as a national spokeswoman for the movement. She authored the first bill to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, and frequently speaks out against what she says is runaway government spending and power.

More recently, Bachmann decried revelations that the Internal Revenue Service gave special scrutiny to tea party groups applying for non-profit status, and became a leading critic of the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Lybia

One of Bachmann's most high-profile legislative victories was getting Congressional approval for a new bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin. In fact, the day before Bachmann's 2014 election announcement, she attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the St. Croix River bridge.

Bachmann has also proved to be a fundraising powerhouse during her time in Congress. During her 2010 re-election bid, she raised more than $13.5 million, more than any other incumbent member of Congress in the country.

Despite her national profile and fundraising prowess, Bachmann has had difficulty penetrating the GOP's inner circle in Washington. After Republicans took control of the House in the 2010 election, 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.

Bachmann is also 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. Political fact-checking sites, including MPR's PoliGraph and the Tampa Bay Times' PolitiFact have found many of Bachmann's claims to be misleading or false.

BACHMANN ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

After Bachmann announced her candidacy for president, she rose 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 was especially popular among members of the Tea Party.

Bachmann's star peaked in August of 2011, when she won the Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll. But then things went downhill for her.

Despite spending extensive time in Iowa meeting voters in the lead-up to the January 2012 caucuses, Bachmann failed to secure the support she needed to be successful there. Iowans said they liked Bachmann's passion and independence, but cited her lack of experience, her skimpy legislative record and her viability as a challenger to Obama as concerns.

She also made another gaffe, suggesting in a post-debate interview that the HPV vaccination has been linked to mental retardation.

Bachmann's campaign suffered a serious blow during her final push in Iowa when her state chair, Sen. Kent Sorenson, abruptly left her campaign for Texas Rep. Ron Paul's. And the presence of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who also touted a socially conservative record, complicated Bachmann's prospects there.

On Jan. 3, 2012, Bachmann came in last in the Iowa Caucuses. The next morning, she bowed out of the race.

LIFE AFTER THE CAMPAIGN

Bachmann ended her presidential campaign in time to run for re-election in the 6th Congressional District.

But while she had no trouble raising cash to support her fourth campaign, she narrowly won the seat by only 4,200 votes against DFL endorsed candidate Jim Graves.

Graves, a relative moderate within his party, is running for the spot again in 2014, and could have sealed a win over Bachmann if just enough independents or moderate Republicans backed his bid.

Graves told MPR News Wednesday morning that he believed Bachmann decided to bow out now rather than face defeat at the ballot box.

"Clearly she got the same message that we're getting when we're up in the district, which is that people are looking for change and that she didn't see a pathway to victory, apparently," Graves said.

Bachmann's presidential campaign — and specifically Sorenson — have come back to haunt her fourth term in Congress.

In Iowa, an Iowa Senate committee is investigating whether Sorenson was paid improperly for his role in Bachmann's campaign. And the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and congressional investigators are also looking into various aspects of Bachmann's presidential campaign.

In her farewell video, Bachmann didn't say what's next, but promised that she wouldn't pass up an opportunity, political or otherwise, to "save and protect our great nation for future generations."

"My future is full, it is limitless and my passions for America remain," Bachmann said.

MPR reporter Brett Neely contributed to this report from Washington.

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