Michele Bachmann
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks during the Conservative Principles Conference, in Des Moines, Iowa on March 26.
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updated 5/16/2011 11:31:37 AM ET 2011-05-16T15:31:37

Michele Bachmann was a self-styled "education researcher" making a run for a Minnesota school board seat in 1999 when the question came up at a candidate forum: If elected, would she serve all four years?

Maybe not, she said.

Bachmann, now a three-term congresswoman and Tea Party favorite who may run for president in 2012, opened up about a confrontation she'd had with a state senator over Minnesota's new school standards.

Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field
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"I told him that if he's not willing to be more responsive to the citizens, that I may have to run for his seat or find someone else who would do so," she said, according to a newspaper account of the meeting.

Bachmann lost the school board race, but then knocked off the senator, a fellow Republican, just months later using the standards as her primary issue.

It was an early indicator of a recurring theme: Bachmann often wins by losing.

Video: Bachmann on budget: 'Deal will be made' (on this page)

She stands ready to shake up the GOP race either by running herself, with a decision expected by June, or influencing those who do get in.

Tea Party hero
The race would test her resilience because she would start far back. But as a little-known House member only a few years ago, Bachmann became hero of the conservative Tea Party movement in part by fighting losing battles with the GOP establishment. Her path to Congress was paved by failed efforts to pass a ban on gay marriage in the Minnesota Legislature.

"She is very good at turning lemons into lemonade all the time," said Sal Russo, a California political consultant who came to know Bachmann through the Tea Party.

Some Republicans fret about her propensity to freelance and question whether she'd appeal to a broad voter base. Democrats who have opposed her warn that she's politically adept and not to be taken lightly.

"If you go attend a town meeting, she's normal, she's articulate, she's a mother, she's thoughtful. She can play the part," said Ted Thompson, a Democrat defeated by Bachmann in a state legislative race.

From her first involvement in politics, the 55-year-old Bachmann has shown a determination to keep pressing forward and find opportunities, even when the way seemed blocked.

In the late 1990s, Bachmann was a stay-at-home mother of five in Stillwater, a scenic St. Croix River town east of St. Paul. Then she was drawn into a revolt over education standards.

Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, were members of a theologically conservative Lutheran denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. She was trained as a lawyer at the faith-driven Oral Roberts University. She had strong views about traditional education, and the state standards emphasized student projects over lectures and book work.

Video: Bachmann slams Obama's credibility at GOP event (on this page)

She became an organizer of the opposition. She invited concerned parents to a banquet hall where she described the standards as a government plan to teach students attitudes, values and beliefs.

Bachmann and four others eventually formed a slate to make a run at control of the board. The race roiled the community, with some alleging a "coup attempt" and others cheering on the "Boston Tea Party"-style uprising.

None of the newcomers prevailed. But Bill Dierberger, who ran alongside Bachmann, didn't find her "overly discouraged" by the defeat.

"She got right back up in the saddle and said, 'I'm going to fight'" the education standards, he recalled.

'She's an energizer'
Early on, Bachmann showed potential as an articulate and magnetic speaker, said Bill Pulkrabek, a Republican leader who helped assemble the school board slate.

"People had been predicting her demise since Day One: 'Oh, she's a radical, she's too far right, she's too outspoken, she's too inflammatory,'" Pulkrabek said. "The fact of the matter is, with the exception of the first race, she wins."

Parlaying her school board defeat into a victorious legislative campaign, she moved to the state Senate and seized on a new issue.

Around Thanksgiving 2003, justices in Massachusetts ruled the commonwealth couldn't prevent same-sex marriage. Bachmann hit the phones, reaching out to fellow conservatives about making sure gay marriage would stay illegal in Minnesota.

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, was among those summoned by Bachmann to the Capitol just days later to begin pushing for a state constitutional amendment clearly stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

"She threw herself into the issue," Prichard said. "The activist in her came out."

Jeff Davis heard her public appeal through his car radio. Not politically involved at the time, Davis came to the Capitol and pledged to help Bachmann. The technology company worker formed what would become a well-financed group running ads aimed at getting Bachmann's measure on the ballot.

"She's an energizer. She influences people around her," Davis said. The drive instantly elevated Bachmann's political profile, he said. "It was a launch point."

Bachmann didn't waver even when her lesbian stepsister went public with her feelings that Bachmann's effort was "hurtful to me and so many others."

Although the measure foundered, Bachmann could draw on her enhanced standing with social conservatives to shoot past more seasoned Republicans when a seat in Congress opened ahead of the 2006 election.

Huckabee: 'My heart says no' to 2012 run

National stage
Bachmann's victory in that race brought her to the national stage and prompted a new focus on fiscal issues. She harnessed the outrage of the Tea Party, a fledgling political force inflamed by debates over government bailouts and a far-reaching health law pursued by President Barack Obama.

Story: Newt Gingrich: I'm running for president

Her outspoken opposition did not stop the health law, but it got her much more television exposure and helped make her a face of the new resistance. In one Fox News interview, Bachmann urged viewers to flood Washington and "go up and down through the halls, find members of Congress, look at the whites of their eyes and say, 'Don't take away my health care.'"

Amy Kremer remembers seeing Bachmann's television plea while on a Tea Party Express bus heading between rallies in Washington state. The next week, Kremer joined Bachmann in the nation's capital for a big tea party protest.

Story: Obama way ahead of Republicans for 2012 election

"You can tell the ones who have the passion, the fire in the belly and are truly speaking from the heart. She's one of those," Kremer said. "That comes through."

In January, Bachmann delivered a Tea Party response to Obama's State of the Union address. In some quarters, the speech was seen as an affront to the official GOP response given by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman. Bachmann unsuccessfully campaigned for a spot in leadership in the weeks after the GOP won back control of the House.

Bachmann shrugged off the defeat in a recent Associated Press interview.

"That's life isn't it? Sometime life takes interesting turns," she said, while adding, "I think from a governing point of view, I think for my political party it would be very good to have that view represented at the table."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bachmann on budget: 'Deal will be made'

  1. Closed captioning of: Bachmann on budget: 'Deal will be made'

    >> well, budget negotiations are in a stalemate. democrats are blaming the tea party . and some conservatives think republican leaders aren't going far enough.

    >> minnesota congresswoman michele bachmann joins us now, the founder of the house tea party caucus. congresswoman, thank you for being with us.

    >> thank you so much. a pleasure to be on this morning.

    >> well, let's start right there. do you think that speaker boehner should compromise for something less than the $61 billion in cuts that republicans passed in hr-1? are you willing to compromise?

    >> well, my goal would be to start at $61 billion and try and take off more than that. in fact, i think there's even -- an even bigger goal, and that would be to defund obama care. in over a year, there hasn't been one week where less than a majority of americans want to repeal obama care.

    >> let's stick to the question before us. as you know, these are serious issues. a government shutdown looms. do you and the tea party caucus members who you lead, will they vote against anything less than $61 billion? in cuts?

    >> well, i think we won't be taking a position as a caucus. each member will come to their own decision. i firmly believe that by friday, a deal will be made. i doubt that we'll see a government shutdown in the final analysis . unfortunately, howard dean , chuck schumer and harry reid already revealed their hand to the american people . their goal is to see government shut down. i think what we need to do is end this thing for 2011 because as you know, speaker pelosi and the democrats did not do their job. they didn't pass a budget. they didn't fund government for this year. that's why republicans are involved in this exercise. i actually think that we will come to an agreement. and then we'll move on to 2012 . and then you'll see, i think, some dramatic cuts in government spending .

    >> well, it sounds like, then, you are telling speaker boehner, hey, if you have to compromise, compromise. is that a fairway to just read what you just said to us?

    >> well, i'm speaking for myself, i'm not speaking for the tea party caucus.

    >> i understand that.

    >> or for other members. for myself, i cannot vote for the current compromise that we're looking at. i don't think it is sufficient because primarily it doesn't include the defunding of obama care. so for me and for me only, i can't go down that road.

    >> okay. i want to ask you about what we just saw in wisconsin last night. because i think it has potentially the same political effects of what we're seeing today. governor walker had a chance to get 80% of what he wanted. from the unions. he didn't take it. and he went for everything. and now the political backlash happened last night. the person running to replace him in the county office lost. the supreme court justice seat is going to be in a recount. and somehow democrats have a chance at something they shouldn't have had a chance at a month ago. is there a point where you worry about going too far where you end up damaging your long-term cause? you damage your chances, let's say, to get the paul ryan budget to be taken more seriously by this town?

    >> i think the budget that was just proposed yesterday by the house republicans will be taken very seriously because we really do have two paths that we can go down. we have a certainty of bankruptcy if we do nothing, or we have one that's responsible trying to get our house in order. i think what we saw from the election results from november is the american people saying get your act together. we as individuals and as businesses are getting our act together. government, you do the same. so i think people want us to be reasonable.

    >> nothing in wisconsin sends a warning sign to you that you're worried that that -- look at what happened to governor walker, he may have gone too far and felt this political backlash?

    >> well, i think what we're seeing is wisconsin is a hyper reaction on the part of the unions. they see that their power hold that they have had for years in wisconsin is under threat. and so they've come together. they've organized. and they're making their voices heard. i think that's what we're seeing as opposed to necessarily response from the people. because remember, the people in wisconsin voted for a change election. they put a republican in as governor, as senator, both legislative bodies. so they called for change. they wanted to get spending under control, and that's what scott walker delivered.

    >> but congresswoman, i kind of hear you saying two things. on the one hand, you said you think the american people expect their politicians to be reasonable. at the same time, you said you yourself couldn't stomach a compromise of anything less than the full $60 billion in cuts that the house republican conference wants. where's the compromise in that?

    >> well, that's a dramatic compromise to come down to $60 billion. we're talking in the context of $3.5 trillion.

    >> that's what you guys -- right, but that's what the house republicans passed. i mean, that's the top- line number . $61 billion, republicans would have gotten everything they were able to pass.

    >> actually, the initial -- the initial offering was $100 billion. so it was a tremendous compromise to come down to $61 wanted to have the defunding of obama care as well. so the republicans have already compromised. but again, we're talking about a $3.5 trillion budget. last week alone the united states borrowed $99 billion. so we borrowed more just last week than the small amount that we're talking about. i really think that the differences in the scheme of things is not large enough for us to make into a major three-act play. i think the bigger issue is really getting on to the 2012 budget and how we're going to reform government . we need to change and reform government because we can't go down the road we're going down because we will be looking at certain bankruptcy if we don't get our financial house in order.

    >> congresswoman, you keep talking about defunding the president's health care plan. do you think it's good for american politics that if something gets passed by one congress, that the next one comes in and says, you know what? let's defund it and repeal it before you ever see it get implemented. do you think if that's the type of politics that we see practiced over the next decade or two decades, that that is good for the american mitt cal system?

    >> well, obama care was passed as a deception. it was highly partisan. not one republican voted for this bill. we've never seen a major entitlement --

    >> it hasn't been implemented yet.

    >> the early stages are being implemented. again, the important point is, the american people , in the last year, have only gotten more disenchanted with obama chair than last. president obama promised that our health insurance premiums would be cut $2,500 per household. instead, we're seeing spikes in our insurance premiums of 20% and 40% increases. we need to stop this before it adds even more to the deficit. and we know it will add over $1 trillion. that's money we can't afford. so we need to defund and we need to get rid of this bill.

    >> we only have a few minutes left. let's talk about 2012 . you have suggested you're considering a presidential run. you certainly are somebody who can rile up a crowd. you can grab headlines. i want to play a couple of things you've said in the past, then ask you about it on the other side.

    >> that's the number of new drilling permits under the obama administration since they came into office. to think that government has to go out and buy my breast pumps for my babies. the president of the united states will be taking a trip over to india that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. in the 1970s , the swine flu broke out then under another democrat president, jimmy carter .

    >> congresswoman, all the statements have one thing in common, that is that they were rated as false by politifact. my question to you is if you want to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate , do you feel the need to be more precise in your statements so that people recognize you are a person of substance?

    >> well, i am a person of substance. i have a law degree . i have a post- doctorate degree in tax law . my husband and i have started two clinics. we own both of our businesses. we have been married 33 years. we have five biological children. we've raised 23 foster children . we together with --

    >> do you agree with the facts sometimes?

    >> we started the first charter school in the united states for k-12 students. i have a very substantial background. yes, it's important that we have accuracy, but take a look at president obama 's credibility. he's the one who said if we pass the trillion-dollar stimulus package , that we wouldn't see unemployment go up to 8%.

    >> but congresswoman, i asked about you in some of your statements. but in the interest of personal responsibility, those were your statements that were ultimately deemed to be inaccurate. so my question is to you, how will you change your rhetoric so that people understand you are a serious person who has credibility on the big issues?

    >> well, people know that i do have credibility on the big issues because here in washington , d.c., i have said that i am not a part of the political establishment. i came here as an outsider. for five years i have fought against big government and against the political insiders. and i've stayed true to my convictions. what i've said i was going to do, i have done. and people back home are extremely grateful that i've been trying to fight the system here in washington , d.c. that's what people want. they want a fighter who's going to continue to fight for them and against the big interests here in washington .

    >> are you more likely to run for re-election to congress or for president?

    >> well, we'll make that decision by early summer , and we'll let you know.

    >> so are you more likely -- right now where are you leaning?

    >> well, we'll let you know by the summer. we're in the process of laying the foundation to see which direction we're going to go. and every endeavor i've ever done, we lay out a plan. this is not a rash decision. we're thoughtfully and carefully going through and laying out the resources that we would need. we did very well last quarter financially. we raised $2.2 million. we have a lot of support from people in the early primary states. and we're just making the decision now about whether this is the right decision to make going forward.

    >> all right. congresswoman michele bachmann , it's great to have you on "the daily rundown." we should mention, we understand it's your birthday today. so thanks

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

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