Image: Bachmann
AP
This 2005 photo provided by Michele Bachmann shows then-state Sen. Michele Bachmann as she poses with her state permit to carry a concealed weapon nestled in a folded U.S. flag at her office in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.
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updated 6/14/2011 2:24:09 PM ET 2011-06-14T18:24:09

One hand clutches a crisply folded U.S. flag with a concealed weapons certification protruding; the other slides discreetly into a denim coat pocket. Behind the beaming state lawmaker, a silhouette target with bullet holes square in the chest. Next to her nameplate, a "No New Taxes!" sticker.

The photo taken during Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann's initial run for Congress in 2006 captures her essence.

In Bachmann's quick rise from state lawmaker to unofficial tea party ambassador in Washington, her brazen style has kept Republican leaders on edge and appealed to those in the GOP searching for a fresh, unfettered voice. She relishes the spotlight and seldom cedes ground.

Her unpredictable edge was on display during Monday night's GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire when, out of the blue, she announced that she had filed papers to be an official candidate for the Republican nomination.

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"I do what I say and I say what I mean and I don't change what I do based on a political wind or desire to necessarily move up the next ladder," Bachmann told The Associated Press this spring in an interview in which she stressed her eagerness to "take on not only the opposing party but my own party as well to do what I think is right."

The debate's winners and losers

Known for piercing and sometimes inaccurate commentary, she regularly aggravates political foes and provides ample fodder to late-night comics. She once falsely claimed taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for Democratic President Barack Obama's trip to India. She mistakenly identified New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots. (That key American moment occurred in Massachusetts.)

While some see her as a novelty candidate, she's also regarded as a skilled, resilient politician.

"I know people like to pick at her," said Dan Nygaard, a local Republican official during Bachmann's early days in politics. "But you can never underestimate her."

Her personal evolution is striking.

In college, Bachmann volunteered on Democrat Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and took her maiden trip to Washington to revel in his inauguration; now she's a congressional megaphone for the conservative tea party. As a young government lawyer, Bachmann helped chase tax dodgers for the Internal Revenue Service; now she stokes worry about a swarm of IRS agents enforcing the new health insurance law she's determined to repeal. In 1999, Bachmann failed to win a local school board seat; now she's a factor in the race for the nation's highest office.

Carter's evangelical Christian beliefs attracted her, she says, while his struggles to rescue the country from a funk turned her away. Bachmann says the tax work gave her a deeper understanding of a tax code she came to regard as flawed.

Bachmann, 55, was born Michele Marie Amble in Waterloo, Iowa. Her father's engineering job led the family, including Michele and three brothers, to Minnesota when she was in elementary school. By high school, her parents had divorced. She stayed with her mother, who later remarried.

Michele Amble married college boyfriend Marcus Bachmann, a clinical therapist. The youngest of their five children will soon head off to college.

Video: Obama policies in spotlight at GOP debate (on this page)

Religion has always factored heavily into Bachmann's life. She was in the last class to graduate from Oral Roberts University's now-defunct Coburn School of Law, a school dedicated to educating lawyers with Christian values. (Anita Hill, later involved in the scandal that nearly sank Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination, taught a couple of Bachmann's classes.)

Until about two years ago, the Bachmanns were members of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., part of a conservative denomination that adheres to strict doctrine and excludes women from church leadership roles. The pastor there, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz, told the AP that the family stopped attending regularly when they moved to another Twin Cities suburb.

"Our church body is very pro-life, and that has come out in Michele's position all the way along," Birkholz said. "I would say not everybody would be as outspoken as she is."

Story: Romney's rivals hold their fire on front-runner

A fellow parishioner encouraged the Bachmanns to consider providing foster care. Teenage girls from troubled families — 23 in all — cycled through the Bachmann house, some as briefly as a couple of weeks and others as long as a couple of years.

Former neighbor Joanne Hood recalls Bachmann taking the lead in organizing block picnics, Christmas cookie exchanges and kiddie bike parades. Today, it pains Hood to see Bachmann mocked over verbal gaffes or demonized over her stances.

"When I hear negative things about her, I think, 'You don't know her,'" Hood said. Critics "make her out to be a ditz, and she's not."

Bachmann needed a couple of tries to make her mark in politics. After the school board loss, she toppled an incumbent Republican on her way to a state Senate win in 2000. She won an open seat in Congress six years later.

Outspoken on fiscal matters, she vaulted to congressional prominence as the tea party did. She co-founded the House Tea Party Caucus.

Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann (on this page)

Some close to Bachmann privately refer to her as a "light switch." She flips on the charm to dazzle audiences or nail TV interviews, they say, then takes on a drill sergeant persona in private, where questioning her decisions draws suspicion of disloyalty. She's described as meticulous and worried about the finer details, such as soundtracks played to pump up rally crowds.

Bachmann has experienced frequent top-level staff changes in her congressional office since 2007. She's had six chiefs of staff in four years, five press secretaries, five legislative directors and three communications directors.

Bachmann discounts the staff churning as "growing pains" in an office that "moves at a fast rate of speed," and she stresses that many left for more influential jobs elsewhere.

A few prominent ex-staff members publicly support a fellow GOP presidential candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Sean Nienow, who ran Bachmann's district office for a year before a split he called mutual, is among those reserving judgment.

"There's no question she's very conservative ideologically," said Nienow, now a state senator who mirrors Bachmann from a philosophical standpoint. "Can she win? If she were elected, how would she lead? These are questions that have yet to be answered."

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

Video: Bachmann eyes the White House

  1. Closed captioning of: Bachmann eyes the White House

    >>> michelle bachmann did stand out among the republicans on stage in new hampshire for her abilitity to rally the tea party faithful. for conservatives the minnesota congresswoman did not disappoint.

    >> there is no other agency like the epa. it should be renamed the job killing organization of america. the media has tried to wrongly and grossly portray the tea party . the pea heart is really made up of diseffected democrats. i fought behind closed doors against my own party on tarp. it was a wrong vote then. it's continued to be a wrong vote since then. sometimes that's what you have to do take principle over your party.

    >> amy kramer is director of grassroots and coalitions for the tea party express and joins us from manchester, 00 hnl. great to see you.

    >> great to see you.

    >> what was your impression of michelle bachmann last night? ? she shined. i think it was a chance for america to see her shine. the tea party movement's been seeing her shine for a while. she's been a loud voice at the front of this movement for a while. i think it was a good introduction for her. last night i was shocked, there were no fireworks. we expected some beloves to come off and for them to really go at each orand they didn't. they were all playing nice up there and being courteous to one another and respectful. we hope going forward that we really see somebody come forward and shine bright and show their courage and what it's going to take to get this country back on track.

    >> what does your group the tea party express, i know that the tea party is not an organized party per se , but those whom you speak with and to, what do you want to see in a candidate and so far is michelle becomeman that person?

    >> first of all in full disclosure we're hosting the first ever tea party presidential debate later in september. we are completely and unbiased for the integrity of the debate. we're not supporting or opposing anyone. what we're looking for is a candidate that, you know, representing our principles and values of the tea party movement. who stands for fiscal responsibility , limited government and free markets . we want to see the candidate that has the ideas and solutions that can get jobs going again. get the price of gas down. get this economy back on a sound economic footing where we're not on the precipice of bankruptcy. that's what we're looking for in a candidate.

    >> what about the social issues? because you're more focused on the economic side, there is a logical coalition building around those especially in iowa who are social conservatives and evangelical support as well.

    >> right. there are the social conservatives that have their own movement and there's definitely some overlap there. but overall, this tea party mumt is focused on the fiscal issues, the economic issues. that's why they're democrats and independents that identify with the movement they too want fiscal spomity. that's the glue that iends us together. it's like somebody said recently, somebody's not going to go to the polls to vote on prayer in school when they can't afford the gas to drive to the polls. it's economic issues that are important. that's what's going to be turning the voters out come november 2012 nnd a the primaries.

    >> amy , some people are disappoint that had the candidate last night were not more specific about the economy.

    >> well, you know, i think there was some good substance in the debate that came out of it. they definitely talked about the economy. but look, you had seven candidates up there. it's a broad field. quite honestly, i don't think all the players are on the field right now. we do want to get more specific. i think the candidates are going to have opportunities to do that in other debates that are coming up in the future as well as out on the campaign trail. the people within this tea party movement are definitely paying attention and as i said, we want to hear their ideas and solutions. we want to hear where they're going to lead this country if they can become president of the united states .

    >> amy cremor, thank you very much.

    >>> jobs, the economy and anthony weiner , nbc's ann curry joining us with her cleex ussive interview with president obama . why

Photos: The political life of Michele Bachmann

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  1. President George W. Bush campaigns with state Sen. Michele Bachmann in Wayzata, Minn. during her first Congressional race in August 2006. (Evan Vucci / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. As a state senator, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. She is pictured here speaking during a Senate hearing at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. in 2006. (Janet Hostetter / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Helen LaFave, right, Bachmann's lesbian stepsister, speaks to the media at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. LaFave attended the 2006 hearing at which Bachmann presented her amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Her partner of 18 years, Nia Wronski, is seen at left. (Janet Hostetter / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Bachmann walks on stage during the second day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September 2008. (Win McNamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bachmann attracted national attention when she said that Democratic nominee Barack Obama "may have anti-American views" during an interview on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews in October 2008. (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Bachmann participates in the launching of the Republican National Committee's "Fire Pelosi" bus tour on September 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Bachmann, a leading critic of the Obama-backed health care law, lobbies for petitions calling for repeal of Obamacare in January 2011 on Capitol Hill. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bachmann rankled some Republicans when she gave a "Tea Party" response to the president's State of the Union address in 2011. Critics said she detracted from the standard GOP response, which was given by House budget chief Rep. Paul Ryan. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (C), her husband Marcus Bachmann (R) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad listens to Bachmann's introduction prior to her speach at the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC Watchdog Reception January 21, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. Bachmann spoke to Iowa's largest anti-tax group amidst speculation that she will run for president as a Republican candidate in 2012. (Steve Pope / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bachmann looks at a cake commemorating the 100th birthday of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington in February 2011. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bachmann speaks at a rally by home school advocates in in Des Moines, Iowa in March 2011. More than 1,000 home school advocates rallied on the steps of the Iowa Statehouse, cheered on by three potential Republican presidential candidates who joined their cause. (Charlie Neibergall / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Rep. Michele Bachmann, speaks to supporters during her formal announcement to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, June 27, 2011, in Waterloo, Iowa. Bachmann was born in Waterloo. (Charlie Neibergall / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann waves to supporters after speaking during the Iowa straw poll in Ames, Iowa Aug. 13, 2011. Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll with 29% of the vote, edging out Rep. Ron Paul by 152 votes, or 28%. (Daniel Acker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A police officer guards Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann after protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement drowned out her foreign policy speech on Nov. 10, 2011 in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina. About 30 people rose in unison and began shouting during Bachmann's address aboard the USS Yorktown and then marched out peacefully. (Richard Ellis / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Michele Bachmann is joined by her husband, left, during a news conference formally ending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on Jan. 4, 2012 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Bachmann made the decision after a poor finish in the 2012 Iowa caucuses. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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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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