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Michele Bachmann is cool to mainstream media, and an increasingly hot property

Rep. Michele Bachmann at a "tea party" rally on tax day.
Rep. Michele Bachmann at a "tea party" rally on tax day. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Leahy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Her tone was bright. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity," she said.

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Michele Bachmann was on the phone. That alone was unusual. The Minnesota congresswoman generally does not speak to journalists doing stories about her, at least not to journalists from what she refers to as the "mainstream media." She and her communications director had granted a brief interview on the condition there would be no questions about her reelection race. She began by spending a few minutes reflecting on what she regarded as her key accomplishments.

"What I hear from my people back home is, 'Thank you for speaking up,' " she said.

No other House member in recent memory has risen so swiftly on the basis of speaking up. Although only in her second term, the Republican Bachmann is already better known than many senators in her party, widely popular with conservatives and "tea party" supporters. She has labeled the Obama administration a "gangster government" and expressed concerns that the president might harbor "un-American" views. At once revered and reviled, she is a talk-show producer's dream, a fundraising juggernaut. Along with a few firebrand conservatives including Florida Republican senatorial hopeful Marco Rubio, she has built a large army of small donors.

Now she voiced frustration with what she regarded as the "media's focus" on her "language." She listened to a question about comments she had made regarding a federal program designed to expand the national number of community volunteers, a measure authored by the late Massachusetts senator and liberal lion Edward Kennedy and signed into law by President Obama. She was asked about her charge that the program would lead to political "reeducation camps" for its young participants.

Dead silence came over the telephone line.

After a while, it was time for the mainstream media's next question. "Are you there, Congresswoman?"

The silence lengthened.

"Are you there, Congresswoman?"

The 'Hardball' moment

Bachmann's fans know her largely through tapes of her speeches and her frequent appearances on talk radio and television, where the well-dressed 53-year-old enjoys the star status reserved for unpredictable mavericks who deliver arresting sound bites.

Her quotable highlights span the spectrum of her worries and suspicions. She has asserted that Obama has secret plans to force anyone making more than $65,000 to pay the highest tax rate. She has derided the U.S. census as part of a White House scheme intended to guarantee indefinite congressional control to Democrats -- and suggested that census data could be utilized to "get" Americans. She has invoked World War II, telling the interested that the government "used the U.S. census information to round up the Japanese [Americans] and put them in the internment camps."

She has stirred the faithful in a way that has captured the attention of party elites around the country. The full measure of her stature revealed itself in April, when she appeared at a roaring Minneapolis rally alongside another telegenic lightning rod to whom she is increasingly compared, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who praised Bachmann for the ferocity with which she attacked the agendas of her political foes. "Michele doesn't say no," Palin said. "Michele says h-e-l-l no." Afterward, Palin joined her for a fundraising dinner that packed in 800 supporters at $500 a plate.


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