Michele Bachmann is the Most ____ Woman in Politics

Eight ways to look at the sixth-district congresswoman

Few Minnesotans have middle-of-the-road opinions about Michele Bachmann, the telegenic 54-year-old Republican congresswoman from Minnesota’s sixth district, who in recent years has gained national celebrity as a standard bearer for the American conservative movement. The embodiment of the Palin-style female politician, Bachmann has proffered views on everything from the U.S. Census and “Obama-care” to gay marriage and “green” light bulbs—energizing conservatives and liberals alike, in very different ways. But does Bachmann mean what she says? And does she practice what she preaches? To fully understand how the woman behind such strong words got to Washington—and to fully gauge whether she can survive the midterm elections—you have to talk to a lot of people, including the congresswoman herself.

Here, a study in perspectives on the state’s most talked-about politician.
 

PERSPECTIVE 1: BELOVED

It’s 9 a.m. on the first Wednesday in April, and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is in the Twin Cities to raise money for Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s campaign. According to Bachmann’s office, more than 11,000 free tickets have been distributed for a rally at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The doors won’t open until noon, but a line has already begun to form.

Fatima Franzen, a bright-eyed, immaculately dressed Republican activist from Shakopee, is bubbling with excitement at the prospect of seeing two of her heroes on the same stage. She loves Palin—“Such a beautiful, smart woman. A wonderful role model”—but she’s particularly thrilled with Bachmann.

“Michele’s a go-getter,” Franzen says. “She gets results. She’s not in it just for the politics. She really cares about people. I’d love to have her as president of the United States.” She pauses, and smiles broadly. “Michele makes a great team with Sarah. They see eye to eye in a really exciting way. One of them could be the president and the other could be vice president. It almost doesn’t matter who.”

Heidi Swander, of Maple Grove, is equally excited. She drove to the rally with her friend Barb Cullen, of Champlin, and the two middle-aged women are as animated as a pair of teenagers outside a rock concert. “Who would’ve thought I’d be standing here saying, ‘Yay! Go Sarah and Michele?’” Swander says, and then adds: “I’m not a women’s libber or anything. It’s cool that they’re women, but it’s more important that they’re willing to stand up for what’s right.”

For many, Palin and Bachmann are the kind of champions that conservative female voters have been seeking for decades. Earlier this year, Bachmann appeared alongside such luminaries as Bay Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Carrie Prejean in the fifth annual Great American Conservative Women calendar, published by the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a Virginia organization that promotes conservative women leaders. The calendar highlights the “brains and the beauty” of the modern conservative movement, including Bachmann—Ms. November. The congresswoman’s ability to successfully juggle her roles as wife, mother, and U.S. representative make her a role model for thousands of young conservative women, says Alyssa Cordova, the institute’s lecture director. Some high-profile Republicans, such as conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly, have hinted that Bachmann is qualified to become the first female president of the United States.

Carrie Huffer, an attorney from Nicollet attending the rally in Minneapolis, believes much of Bachmann’s appeal lies in her willingness to speak openly about her religious faith. “Eighty-six percent of this country is Christian—and then there are all the Catholics and Episcopalians,” Huffer says. “So Michele really is just like the majority of Americans. That’s what makes her so popular.”
 
Others say it’s Bachmann’s voting record that turned them into supporters. Ben and Liz Frank, postal workers from St. Michael, took vacation days from work to attend the rally. They are standing at the front of the line. “We appreciate what Michele’s done,” Liz says enthusiastically. “It would be great to have her for president. She tells the truth.”

 “I’ve always voted for her,” Ben nods. “It makes you feel good that there are a lot of people like her who are fighting back against this corrupt administration.”
 

PERSPECTIVE 2: INVINCIBLE

If anyone knows what it’s like to run against Bachmann, it’s Elwyn Tinklenberg. The one-time Blaine mayor and former Minnesota Transportation Commissioner challenged Bachmann, then a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives, for her congressional seat in 2008. It proved to be an uphill battle, and Tinklenberg barely made a dent in the incumbent’s lead until mid-October, when Bachmann appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and suggested that presidential candidate Barack Obama may have “anti-American views.”

The comment drew national attention and put a spotlight on the local race that largely benefited Tinklenberg: In 72 hours, his campaign raised $750,000 in individual donations, and, as the election neared, polls showed him closing the gap. Still, Bachmann managed to win reelection, carrying the race by just 3 percentage points.

“The interesting thing was that the famous interview and the national reaction was both a good-news and a bad-news story for us,” Tinklenberg says. “Before then, Michele wasn’t taking us all that seriously. When she said what she did, it activated a lot of support for me from around the country, but it also activated her supporters in some very significant ways. They rallied around her. Michele is tough, and her supporters are very, very loyal.”

Maureen Shaver, a Republican activist, commentator, and advisor to Governor Tim Pawlenty, agrees that Bachmann has a lock on the sixth. “Michele fits her district very well,” Shaver says. “Unless she does something horribly inappropriate, she will always be reelected. This year, I’d say she has a 96 percent chance of winning.”

But others say the idea that Bachmann is invincible is pure myth. “The sixth is a different kind of district,” says Tarryl Clark, a state senator from the area and Bachmann’s Democratic challenger in the upcoming midterm elections. “As someone who’s run in the district and won, I can tell you that people want to see someone who’s fighting for things that affect their everyday lives. Time and time again, Michele’s chosen to be out on the cable TV shows instead of speaking out for the people in the district. We need someone that’s focused on us, not on building her celebrity.”

Maureen Reed, a physician who recently dropped out of the Democratic race against Bachmann, says wooing independents is key to winning the sixth. “In 2008, 10 percent of voters voted independent,” Reed says. “You don’t have to peel a single vote away from Michele Bachmann to defeat her. You have to unite a divided opposition.”

Despite the best efforts of her opponents, however, Bachmann’s momentum continues to build: As of July, Bachmann had raised $4.1 million for this fall’s race, nearly double the amount raised by Clark. Tinklenberg muses that there may be just one person with the power to topple the telegenic congresswoman. “I think Michele has within her the seeds of her own defeat,” he says. “In order to maintain the level of popularity and attention she desires, she needs to be constantly feeding a machine that requires more and more outrageous comments. Someday she is going to say that one thing that is too far over the line. And that will be her own undoing.”
 

 

PERSPECTIVE 3: IRRITATING

In comic books, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. That may explain why Ken Avidor, a blogger, illustrator, transit activist, and comic-book artist from Minneapolis, figures he’s got Bachmann pegged.

“She’s bad news for Minnesota,” Avidor says. “Thanks to Michele Bachmann and all her crazy antics, we don’t have a Republican party that’s credible anymore. She says crazy stuff. Who do you believe? Who’s telling you the truth?”

Bachmann first caught Avidor’s attention and roused his anger when, as a state senator, she voted in favor of freeway expansions that he believed negatively impacted his south Minneapolis neighborhood. Later, news of Bachmann’s outspoken opposition to gay marriage and fundraising support for a controversial Annandale-based Christian punk-ministry group, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, pushed Avidor over the edge. He began posting random, ranting messages detailing his frustration with Bachmann’s legislative moves on his personal blog.

Other Bachmann opponents took notice, and eventually Avidor was invited to contribute to Dump Bachmann, an online political blog dedicated to tracking the congresswoman’s every move. The website, founded in 2004 by Eva Young, a Minneapolis resident and political activist who describes herself as “more of an independent than a liberal,” chronicles Bachmann’s votes, quotes, appearances, and fundraising. Young sees the blog as a way to hold the congresswoman accountable for her actions. She views Dump Bachmann contributors as members of the Fifth Estate, keeping tabs on the public record of an elected official. And Young believes that record is one of intolerance and misinformation.

“I had another political blog,” Young explains. “I realized I was putting up a lot of posts that were about Bachmann. I was irritated that the mainstream media wasn’t covering how extreme she was. I wanted to get the truth out there, so I started a Bachmann-only site. It’s my goal to make everything that she does and says available online—so it doesn’t just go away.”

The record is important, but Young also has a larger mission that’s evident in her blog’s title: One way or another, she would like to see Bachmann leave public office.

These days, Avidor is Dump Bachmann’s biggest contributor. He posts something new—YouTube videos, audio from radio interviews, snippets from news articles or editorials—practically every day, sometimes even more than once a day. His hope is that Bachmann will eventually hang herself with her own words, somehow letting loose with a comment or action so outrageous that everyone except her most die-hard supporters will condemn her actions. He laughs: “I’m waiting for the Titanic to hit the iceberg.”
 

PERSPECTIVE 4: MOTHERLY

Marcus bachmann, a gentle bear of a man with a genial smile and a ready, engaging laugh, says that the very thing that unnerves some people about his wife is what attracted him to her in the first place.
 
“Michele has always been a very passionate person,” he says. “She throws her whole being into the things she cares about.” Though Michele’s critics often find her intensity unnerving, Marcus says, “Her passion and boundless energy inspires me—and it inspires other people, too. I think that’s what makes her such a great leader.”

But Michele Bachmann hasn’t always been the political leader that she is today. In the mid-1970s, when Marcus first met her, they were students at what was then known as Winona State College. Michele was just Michele Amble, a petite, pretty girl from Anoka who was serious about her studies and committed to her Christian values.

It didn’t take long for Marcus to recognize the passion in Michele. “You could see it in her eyes,” he recalls. “You still can.”

The pair married a few months after graduation, on September 10, 1978. A good student who had shown an early interest in politics and government, Michele went on to earn a law degree at Oral Roberts University and a post-doctorate in tax law at the College of William and Mary. Marcus earned a master’s and then a PhD in clinical psychology. Today, he runs Bachmann & Associates, a Christian counseling practice with offices in Burnsville and Lake Elmo.

The couple waited four years after getting married to have their first child, but a big family was always their goal. As Michele was building her career—first at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C., then as a tax-litigation attorney in the Treasury field office in St. Paul—she began building her dream family. After the birth of her fourth child, Michele quit her job to stay home full-time.

“I was maxed out,” she says. “I had all these balls in the air that I was juggling. My husband was close to completing this PhD and he was in private practice, so I finally realized my dream, which was to be a mom of a big happy family.” She says she relished her role as stay-at-home mom, making large family meals, keeping a clean house, and even homeschooling her youngest children.

Marcus says he resists analyzing members of his own family, but he believes that Michele, a child of divorce, wanted to create a traditional Leave It to Beaver–style home for her children—something she never had when she was growing up. “Before we married, we talked very deeply about life, and in a very transparent and authentic way she shared with me about her parents’ divorce and the difficulty that that presented to her.” Marcus says. “What she was looking for in a husband was clearly stability, a person of character. She saw that stability in me and really that was an attraction.”

While their children were growing up, the Bachmanns attended Salem Lutheran, a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church, in Stillwater. Their five biological children attended Salem Lutheran School. It was through their church that the family first learned about becoming foster parents. Eventually, they fostered 23 teenage girls—as many as four at a time—through a private agency.

The Bachmanns’ foster children attended public school, and Michele was alarmed by what she read in some of the materials they brought home. “I saw the emphasis was changing from when I was in public school,” recalls Michele, a 1974 graduate of Anoka High School. “The emphasis seemed to be on teaching political correctness as a substitute for academic knowledge.”

In 1993, she helped launch New Heights Charter School, a K-12 school designed for at-risk kids in Stillwater. Initially, Michele served on the school’s board of directors, but she quit when a parent questioned the board’s efforts to establish classes on creationism and Christian principles. In 1999, Michele ran for the Stillwater school board as part of a slate of GOP-backed candidates. She was defeated.
 

PERSPECTIVE 5: FOCUSED

You could say that Michele and Marcus Bachmann’s relationship was founded on their commitment to the anti-abortion movement. Way back in the mid-1970s, the two college students were still just friends when they attended a film screening sponsored by Winona State College’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. The movie series, titled How Should We Then Live?, was directed by the late Francis Schaeffer, an author and filmmaker who is considered by many to be an influence on prominent members of the Christian Right, including Evangelical Christian minister Timothy LaHaye and Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue.

Schaeffer’s films, with their bleak vision of modern society and commitment to biblical absolutism, weren’t exactly romantic first-date material. But for Michele and Marcus, witnessing Schaeffer’s powerful visual arguments was an eye-opening experience that brought them closer together. “From both an intellectual but also from a spiritual perspective that film really changed our lives,” Marcus recalls. “We both already understood the value of human life, but that film just really turned a key in both of us that said ‘pro life.’ We really sensed an awareness of the sanctity of life from pre-born to natural death.”

After college, Michele Bachmann’s commitment to anti-abortion activism remained strong. She made no bones about her position during her first run for the Minnesota Senate. In fact, her stance on the issue was front and center in her campaign.

“When she was beginning her political career, I knew that there was a real determination in Michele,” recalls Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. “I saw real conviction in her. Michele talks about the unborn pretty regularly. She was part of the life movement before she got involved in politics. She’s got a real love of children and babies and kids. That’s always been a part of who she is.”

As a state senator, Bachmann sponsored the Positive Alternatives Act, legislation that ultimately provided $2.4 million in state Department of Health grants to programs that support, encourage, and assist women in carrying their pregnancies to term and caring for their babies after birth. Among the largest grant recipients in the first funding cycle, from 2006 to 2008, was the Stillwater-based St. Croix Valley Life Care Center, which received $266,600. In the subsequent cycle, the center’s grant increased to $295,751.

Sally Framke, the executive director at St. Croix Valley Life, estimates that the current grant accounts for about half of the annual budget at her seven-employee organization. “I love Michele Bachmann,” Framke says. “We all do. She’s out there on the frontlines, really fighting for life.”

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Bachmann introduced H.R. 4852, the Positive Alternatives Act, based on her work in Minnesota. Her actions were blocked when she attempted to tack Positive Alternatives onto the health-care bill, but she has told her supporters that she’s not giving up. “She did it not for her own glory but because she truly believes that women deserve better than abortion,” Fischbach explains. “They need help, options, and support.”

While Bachmann’s supporters like to talk about the support and options her activism provides for women, Linnea House, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, says the opposite is actually true. “She’s working to limit women’s options, to control their access to basic health care,” House says. “If you were to look and see where she gets her campaign money, you would see that money is coming in from organizations that are on the extreme end of the choice issue.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bachmann’s campaign received $8,300 from anti-abortion groups between June 2009 and June 2010, making her the second-largest recipient of donations from such groups among members of Congress during that period.

Marcus Bachmann says anyone who questions his wife’s commitment to ending abortion should look at her history of providing a home for nearly two-dozen teenage foster girls—several of whom were unmarried and pregnant. She doesn’t just say that abortion is bad, she does something to help those who might feel it’s their only option. “While we were taking on the foster girls, it eventually got to a point where there was so many of us in the house that we couldn’t even fit around the kitchen table,” Marcus recalls, shaking his head and chuckling. “The foster-care agency gave us a group foster-care license, and we expanded our kitchen to make room for more.”
 

 

PERSPECTIVE 6: HURTFUL

In 2002, Scott Dibble, an openly gay DFL state representative from southwest Minneapolis, was sworn in as a freshman member of the Minnesota Senate. Among his new colleagues in the upper chamber was Bachmann, elected in 2001. She could be quite charming, Dibble recalls: “When we were back in the retiring room, we were very friendly with one another. We’d chitchat about the weather and our families, the banal things people always chitchat about. It was very strange.”

But Bachmann was a vocal opponent of gay marriage, and in November 2003, she and a sponsor in the house, Representative Mary Liz Holberg, of Lakeville, proposed a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The issue consumed much of the legislative session. “I had to contend with that issue and all of the hysteria, distortion, and mean-spiritedness that boiled up around that,” says Dibble, who married his partner, Richard Leyva, in California before the passage of Proposition 8. “To say it was difficult to experience is putting it lightly. We [the DFL] were in an extremely narrow majority with only three votes to spare…. It was nonstop attack, attack, attack against gay folks.”

Some of the toughest attacks came from Bachmann, Dibble says. “It was deeply cutting and personal and painful to hear the kind of things that she and her supporters said about people like me and families like mine.”

Lawmakers twice voted down Bachmann and Holberg’s legislation, in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, Bachmann moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she has yet to introduce any legislation related to gay marriage.

Dibble thinks he knows why. “By the time she left state politics, Michele was already becoming a marginal player in the state senate,” he says. “Polling data showed that the issue was a dog for Minnesota Republicans. They thought they had their new ‘abortion’ in [gay] marriage—something that could get a whole bunch of them elected. But polling has showed that it wasn’t true, and subsequent elections confirmed that. When you’ve got people like Laura Bush, Cindy McCain, and Dick Cheney coming out in favor of same-sex marriage, it’s obvious that ground is shifting—and Bachmann knows that.”

But some of Bachmann’s staunchest supporters say Bachmann hasn’t wavered at all on the issue. Chuck Darrell, director of communications for the Minnesota Family Council, says that Bachmann remains committed to limiting legal marriage to one man and one woman. “People of conservative faith have something I like to call a ‘faith antenna,’” Darrell says. “We can tell if someone is just doing ‘God talk’ or if they are truly authentic. Michele is the real deal. She’s bedrock. Her vocal support for traditional marriage is the best example of how beyond a shadow of a doubt her biblical worldview informs her public actions. I am confident she will never step down on that, never.”

 

PERSPECTIVE 7: QUOTABLE

Norm coleman draws a clear distinction between being popular and being respected. The former U.S. senator and St. Paul mayor has been active in the state’s political sphere for decades, and while he’s witnessed Bachmann’s rocky rise to national prominence, he’s says that recently he’s seen an important shift in the public perception of her political legitimacy.

“Not long ago, I received a request from a group of Jewish Republicans in California,” Coleman recalls. “They asked me if I thought Michele would be interested in headlining an event in the state. These are what I’d call progressive Republicans, but they wanted to hear Michele. Afterward, they loved her energy, her enthusiasm, her candor, her clarity.”

Bachmann, Coleman believes, has the potential to move beyond the role of polarizing personality to party leader.

“The other day my wife went to an event with Michele,” he continues. “When I got home, she made a comment about how much she thinks Michele has grown, how she’s getting better with age. She’s growing into her natural gifts. That personal growth can only help increase her prominence on a national level.”

But Kathryn Pearson, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota who studies women in American politics, says Bachmann’s appeal probably has more to do with her populist political views than with her maturity and personal growth. Bachmann is astute to be sure, Pearson says. The congresswoman knows how to target hot-button issues that resonate with conservative voters and activists. “She’s established herself as one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement by staging events and speaking up boldly at rallies and on cable talk shows,” Pearson observes. “For a minority member of Congress, she’s gained a remarkable amount of attention. In some corners, she is a celebrity on par with Sarah Palin.”

Ben Golnik, a public-affairs consultant and former executive director of the Republican Party of Minnesota, says that Bachmann’s star can only rise. “She’s a conservative rock star,” he gushes. In fact, she regularly appears on cable TV, either as a guest on political roundtables or as a target of ridicule on satire programs like The Daily Show. She’s often asked to speak at events: In May, for instance, she spent two days touring California, headlining four events sponsored by the Palm Springs Tea Party Patriots and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.

But Reed, the DFLer who recently dropped out of the current race against Bachmann, contends that the congresswoman is more concerned with burnishing her public image than with serving the sixth district. “If I were in Michele’s position, I’d be in Washington, on the floor of Congress, taking the votes and rolling up my sleeves,” Reed says. “I wouldn’t be flying all over the country, attending fundraisers and appearing on cable TV and missing votes while the taxpayers are paying my salary.”

Bachmann ranks highest among Minnesota’s eight U.S. Representatives in terms of missed roll-call votes. As of late July, according to the Washington Post’s online voting database, Bachmann had missed 119, or 8.4 percent, of the votes taken by the 111th Congress. Keith Ellison ranked second, with 108 missed votes, and Betty McCollum came in a distant third, with 45 missed votes. Tim Walz had the highest participation rate, with just 12 missed votes.

That record doesn’t bother former sixth-district congressman Mark Kennedy. The district’s citizens fare better when their representative is out making a national name for herself, he says, drawing attention to the issues they face every day. “The common criticism of many of Minnesota’s elected officials is that they become invisible once they get to Washington,” Kennedy says. “You don’t see them at home. You don’t see them in Washington. What does that do for the district? Michele is out there bringing national attention to the people of the sixth, and that can only be a good thing.”

In mid-May, Bachmann traveled home to host a series of forums on job creation in four locations across her district. At each stop along the way, from the Holiday Inn in St. Cloud to the American Legion in Hugo, Bachmann drew a decent-sized crowd. It was raining as her entourage rolled into Hugo, and even the ever-energetic congresswoman was looking somewhat tired after a long day. Still, she was being trailed by a writer from Newsweek, and managed to pull off a well-run event.

Colleen, an unemployed Hugo resident (she asked that her last name not be used), attended the event, hoping to get some tips about how to find a new job. Instead, she heard from a panel of Bachmann-selected local business owners who talked critically about the economic policies of the Obama administration and why those policies make it hard for them to hire new employees.

Bachmann, her skirt creased from a day of travel, praised her panelists for their business savvy and thoughtful insights. “I wish it said in the Constitution that in order to be a member of Congress you have to start a business, run it successfully for three years, and learn how hard it is to make a dollar before you go out and spend other people’s money,” she said.

Colleen, whose husband was recently rehired after losing his job, left before Bachmann’s special guest, William Beach from the Heritage Foundation, got up to discuss economic policy. “I was hoping for something that could help me here and now—in my real life,” she said, picking up her purse. “She’s too focused on what her fans are thinking about her to pay attention to the lives of people like me.”
 

 

PERSPECTIVE 8: ELECTABLE

To say that arne carlson is discouraged by the state of the Republican Party in Minnesota is putting it lightly. “If you look at the party of today, Abe Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Taft, and Barry Goldwater would not be welcome,” the former governor says. “That’s tragic. Those are four Republican heroes and they would not be welcome in today’s environment. There are no heroes in the party anymore.”

The biggest names in the GOP today are giving politics a bad name, says Carlson, a Republican who served as Minnesota’s governor from 1991 to 1999. And he puts Bachmann at the top of this list. “Why is Michele Bachmann just showing up for the rallies and the bonfires?” Carlson says. “Where is her performance on the field? She’s there to criticize, blast, and twist the policies of the current administration, but what real solutions has she offered?”

Minnesota once had a reputation for producing a special breed of Republican, fiscal conservatives with relatively moderate social leanings—like Carlson, and former governors Al Quie and Elmer Anderson. But for some Republican activists, that made the party almost indistinguishable from the DFL.

“When I first got involved, in the old Independent Republican days, we were a little squishy for my tastes,” says conservative blogger Andy Aplikowski. “Sometimes the party was a little too centrist, in fact. We acted way too much like Democrats.”

Aplikowski, a 34-year-old resident of the sixth district who writes the blog Residual Forces, knows the GOP inside and out. He grew up in state politics (his mother is the current Republican chair in Minnesota’s fourth congressional district), and the similarities between the state’s top political parties have always been a source of frustration for him. He’s happy about the hard-right turn the party has taken of late, led by figures like Bachmann and gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. “The Republican Party in Minnesota is starting to go back to its core principles,” Aplikowski says.

Whether Emmer and his ilk represent the “core principles” of Minnesota Republicans is debatable, says former Minnesota Senator David Durenburger. But there’s no doubting that today’s media culture encourages extreme behavior on both sides of the political aisle. “To make a name for yourself today, you’ve got to be outrageous,” Durenburger says. “There is no question that Michele Bachmann is riding the single-issue fervor. The single-issue ideological sound bite that she has mastered has catapulted her into national prominence, and I’m guessing everyone figures that once she gets national prominence, who is going to vote against her in the sixth district? It seems that statements no longer need to be backed up with truth.”

Indeed, Bachmann has built a national reputation for making seemingly off-the-cuff statements that, at best, stretch the truth or, at worst, seem to ignore it. In April 2009, for example, she suggested there might be a link between swine flu and the Obama administration, saying, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.” In fact, Gerald Ford, a Republican, was president in 1976, when swine flu broke out.

The Pulitzer Prize–winning fact-checking website PolitiFact, produced by the St. Petersburg Times, has reviewed 10 statements made by Bachmann on a page devoted to her: Six of the statements received a “false” rating; the remaining four a “pants on fire” rating.

Bachmann may occasionally get the details wrong, say her supporters, but her convictions are always right on. She speaks from the heart, says Minnesota’s Republican Party chair Tony Sutton: “She’s plainspoken, unabashed, and unashamed. She speaks straight. She was like that before it was cool to be like that. While outside people want to ridicule her, she’s very tuned in to her constituency. She connects with her district. She’s more in tune with what’s going on in America today than these old-school establishment types.”

The way Sutton sees it, Bachmann is his party’s hope, a leader that will help Republicans regain control of government in November, to reverse the dangerous course he thinks this state and country are set on. “People who criticize Michele just don’t get it,” Sutton says. “I think there’s a tinge of jealousy because they represent the past and Michele represents the future. She is the future of politics in Minnesota.”

Freelance writer Andy Steiner is a frequent contributor to many local and national publications. She lives in St. Paul.

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