September 20, 2011 -- Rep. Michele Bachmann sure knows how to cause a stir, for better or for worse. No other Republican presidential candidate, save possibly rival Rick Perry, has generated the passion or the controversy that the Minnesota congresswoman has stirred up since entering the race.
Take her announcement itself. Bachmann stole the show at the June 13 GOP debate in New Hampshire when, within minutes of the start of the debate, she announced that she had filed paperwork to launch her campaign for the White House. And so began "Bachmania": If Sarah from Alaska had hogged the media spotlight in 2008, then Michele from Minnesota followed suit in 2011.
Two months later, Bachmann surged to victory in the Ames Straw Poll, the first real test of a candidate's mettle before the nation's caucuses and primaries kick off in the winter. While some critics question the importance of Ames -- since its founding in 1979, only two of the five straw-poll winners have gone on to become the GOP nominee -- no one can doubt the message that Bachmann sent that day to the Republican party that she's a force to be reckoned with.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise. Bachmann has always done things her own way, on her own terms. She became the first Republican woman elected to represent Minnesota in the House of Representatives five years ago, winning the seat in the Sixth Congressional District that includes several suburbs of the Twin Cities.
Before that she served for six years as a Minnesota state senator. She has become the darling of the Tea Party movement in Congress, railing against federal spending, trying to repeal President Obama's health care overhaul and establishing the Tea Party Caucus in 2010.
It's not only in her professional life that Bachmann has bucked convention, but in her personal life as well. She and Marcus, her husband of more than 30 years, have cared for 23 foster children, to say nothing of the five children of their own. She has a degree in tax law. She once worked for the IRS.
Despite her successful start to the race for the White House, topped off by her victory in Iowa, Bachmann's campaign has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. Marcus came under fire in June for running a Christian counseling clinic that encouraged homosexuals to "pray away the gay."
She had to convince voters in July that her "ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines" after a report surfaced that she was at times "incapacitated" by the headaches. In August -- days before the straw poll -- Newsweek used a less-than-flattering, wide-eyed photo of her for a cover story on her bid for president, with the headline "The Queen of Rage."
Other critical stories about her appeared in Rolling Stone and the New Yorker. In late August, days after Hurricane Irene had ravaged the East Coast, leaving more than 30 people dead, Bachmann joked at a Florida event that the storm was God's attempt to get Washington politicians to cut back on spending.
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians," she said. "We've had an earthquake. We've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now."
In addition, Bachmann has had to respond to a barrage of criticism. Now in her third term in Congress, she has never sponsored a bill or resolution that has become law, causing her former rival, ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who later dropped out of the presidential race after Ames, to denounce her congressional record as "non-existent."
She and her husband have faced repeated questions about their views on homosexuality, not only because of his clinic but also because she once characterized it as "personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement."
And when she was a state senator, she put a biography of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on "Michele's Must-Read List" on her official website. In the book, author Steven Wilkins wrote, "Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded on racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but over time, mutual respect."
Even her victory in the straw poll quickly lost some of its luster. For starters, Bachmann that day barely managed to beat Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian from Texas seen as having little shot of winning the GOP nomination.
Making matters worse, on that same Saturday in August, another Texan -- Perry -- officially entered the presidential race, stealing not only much of the spotlight from Bachmann but a great deal of support, too. Perry quickly shot to the top of national polls, emerging as the Republican front-runner and sending Bachmann plummeting down to the fringes of the top three, if not outside it altogether.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that Bachmann's support had been cut in half in the past few months, down to 8 percent from 16 percent. In early September, even Bachmann's outgoing campaign manager, Ed Rollins, acknowledged that it was a two-man race.
Can Bachmann come from behind to beat Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney? If she is to do so, she will have to expand her Tea Party base, convince the GOP establishment that she can overcome electability questions and defeat Obama in the general election, and put to rest the concerns about her past comments, as well as her more recent ones.
Those are a lot of "ifs," but count her out at your own peril. The 55-year old native of Waterloo, Iowa, enjoys strong support in the Hawkeye State, site of the country's first caucuses. If she manages to get off to a good start, then consider this: She has never lost an election for state or federal office.
Ultimately, win or lose, you can count on Bachmann to get people talking. That much, it is clear, is guaranteed.