Lightning-rod U.S. Rep. Bachmann seeks wider appeal in Colorado

Colorado played host over the weekend to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who Sean Hannity of Fox News recently called “the second-most hated Republican woman,” ranking her as a compliment directly behind former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

On Saturday, Bachmann spoke at the Steamboat Institute’s inaugural “Freedom Conference” in Steamboat Springs. And on Monday afternoon, the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute is hosting a Bachmann talk in Denver at the Athletic Club.

Bachmann, now in her second term in Congress, has long been a lightning rod in Minnesota politics. Over the past year, however, she has become a national cable-news staple as well, managing to produce a steady stream of jaw-dropping statements and misstatements quoted with equal relish on the right and the left.

She may be most well-known still for an interview she gave to Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last October in which she voiced suspicions about “anti-American” views harbored by her colleagues in Congress, including Barack Obama.

Bachmann has since tossed other notable bombs — from charges that AmeriCorps is becoming a re-education camp for the nation’s youth to last week’s call for prayer and fasting to halt health-care reform — in an apparently orchestrated effort to gain wider visibility.

Talking Points memo noted what it called “The Bachmann Effect,” where her notice-getting assertions tend to baffle and set back opponents, almost as if she were speaking a shorthand only her supporters fully understand.

TPM compiled the following three examples in March.

Bachmann’s Colorado trip signals a branching-out. So far, she has relied primarily on media attention to raise her profile. This week, she may well be looking for rich, right-wing Western soil in which to send down fundraising taproots for a future national run.

Colorado’s political environment seems to offer the kind of hardcore conservative culture that has fostered her growth in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District.

Bachmann got her start in local politics in the early 1990s as a member of the board of the New Heights Charter School, the first K-12 charter school in Minnesota. Controversy began immediately as the board, made up of Bachmann and other right-wing Christians, pushed for Christian-based curricula in what was a publicly funded school, irking some parents.

During that controversy, Bachmann and several others abruptly resigned, and she shifted to a new cause: opposing government standards for public education. She joined up with the Maple River Education Coalition (now called EdWatch) and made a name for herself in the Stillwater area opposing the Minnesota Graduation Standards. Bachmann ran for the school board in Stillwater in 1999 and lost. It has been her only failed attempt at office.

With the Coalition’s backing, Bachmann ran for the Minnesota Senate in 2000, unseating longtime Republican Gary Laidig in the Republican primary. For the next six years, Bachmann would make a name for herself by championing an unsuccessful campaign to amend the Minnesota Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Churchgoing supporters helped her make the leap to Congress in 2006, where she made her mark early by stopping President Bush with a prolonged kiss midway on his walk down the House floor for his 2007 State of the Union address.

That smooch won Bachmann her first taste of national media attention, the beginning of the political notoriety that brought the ambitious Minnesota Republican to Colorado this week.

Chris Steller writes for The Minnesota Independent. Andy Birkey contributed reporting from Minneapolis.

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