In surprise announcement, Republican says she won’t run for fifth term in Congress.
In an unlikely end to a political career that thrived on high-profile events and controversy, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann on Wednesday announced her decision to leave Congress in a video released just after 2 a.m. as she was heading out of the country.
Her announcement, which came as she embarked on a congressional tour to Russia, surprised friends and detractors alike. It capped a tumultuous two-year period in which Bachmann went from leading Republican presidential contender to barely hanging on to her congressional seat while coming under investigation for campaign spending that occurred during her short White House run.
Starting as a grass-roots activist who knocked out a veteran incumbent in her first legislative race, Bachmann quickly emerged as a national conservative icon. She commanded a loyal following even after her 2012 presidential ambitions died quickly when she went all-out to win the Iowa caucuses and came up well short. Along the way, she became one of the country’s most prolific political fundraisers, with a vast network of small donors.
She inflamed conservative passions by seizing on President Obama’s health care plan and displayed a talent for identifying issues that stoked Republican outrage. She also stumbled any number of times over the years, making factual gaffes that were easily disproved, damaging her credibility and halting her momentum in trying to build a wider audience.
After failing in Iowa, Bachmann, 57, narrowly won her congressional seat last November and now finds herself embroiled in a thicket of investigations into that presidential campaign, including inquiries from the FBI.
But by all appearances, Bachmann was planning to run again. She recently unleashed campaign ads against her DFL opponent.
Few could have foreseen Wednesday’s bombshell.
“I was stunned,” said Tom Emmer, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who quickly began considering a run to replace her.
Voters divided on Bachmann
Back in the Sixth Congressional District, voters had mixed reactions to Bachmann’s departure at the end of this term.
Like much of her district, the American Legion Post 225 in Forest Lake stands divided on their controversial congresswoman.
Some, she charmed. Others, she infuriated.
When Lorry Houle, a member of the post auxiliary, learned of Bachmann’s impending departure, she pumped her fists in the air.
She and others recalled when Bachmann wanted to appear in their Legion parade but did not send in the fee. They were aghast when she asked to appear at the front of the parade, a spot reserved for war veterans. Instead, organizers put her behind the horses.
Lee Goodyear wasn’t celebrating. Instead, he brought out the chef’s jacket he saves for special occasions, the one with Bachmann’s autograph on the lapel.
Bachmann has been a frequent visitor to the post. She came down for fishing contests, barbecues, breakfasts and for the Fall Festival and Booya. It made Goodyear, a Vietnam veteran from Scandia, feel like she understood veterans’ issues.
“I was a little disappointed,” Goodyear said. “I don’t have any problem with her at all.”