Bachmann’s brazen style keeps GOP rivals on edge

With Minnesota Republican Michele 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 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.

Known for piercing and sometimes inaccurate commentary, she regularly aggravates political opponents 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.

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

Until about two years ago, the Bachmanns were members of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, part of a conservative denomination that adheres to strict doctrine and excludes women from church leadership roles.

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

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.

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