It's been a rough few weeks for Michele Bachmann.
Of course, controversy isn't new to Bachmann. She made news -- and not in a good way -- when she insisted during her 2012 presidential campaign that HPV vaccinations had been linked to mental retardation. And, Bachmann drew national headlines when she said in the runup to the 2008 campaign that then candidate Barack Obama held "anti-American" views.
Despite setbacks that would have felled many politicians, Bachmann remains in Congress. So, can she be beaten?
There are two -- and only two -- schools of thought on that question. (There is no gray area when it comes to opinions about Bachmann. There is only black and white.)
The first is what we will call the Sebastian Shaw principle. For non comic book geeks (and that, by and large, includes the Fix), Shaw is a character in Marvel Comics who can absorb energy and turn it into strength for himself. (Kevin Bacon played Sebastian Shaw in the movie "X-Men: First Class".)
The argument made by many Bachmann defenders is that all of the focus by the media on the Congresswoman's various assertions only strengthens her with her supporters and further broadens her already-impressive national fundraising base.
"Michele is under attack more often than an 'American Idol' contestant who stood in front of Simon Cowell," said Ed Brookover, a Republican media consultant who works with the Congresswoman. "She wins because she shares values with her constituents and shows them she works for her district."
And, win she does. Since being first elected to her suburban Twin Cities 6th district in 2006, Bachmann has beaten back serious challenges in each of her three re-election races. She won with 46 percent in 2008 (a 3rd party candidate took 10 percent), 53 percent in 2010 and 50 percent in 2012.
Bachmann's success is keyed on three things. The first is the Republican tilt of her district, which gave Sen John McCain 53 percent in 2008 and Mitt Romney 56.5 percent in 2012. (In each case, Bachmann underperformed the Republican presidential nominee by roughly 7 points.) The second is her fundraising ability. She brought in better than $15 million in the 2012 race and two years earlier raised $13.5 million. Those are massive sums for a House candidate that her Democratic opponents have not been able to match. The third is her aggressive constituent service operation in the district. "Bachmann has always been known as providing top-notch constituent services," said one veteran Minnesota Republican strategist. "This was her m.o. in the state Senate and it carried over to Congress."
None of those three things, her allies argue, change in 2014. Bachmann will continue taking the energy thrown at her by the media and national Democrats and converting it into raw political power and fundraising might.
The other theory of the Bachmann case is centered on the concept that past is not prologue for the Minnesota Republican.
Yes, they acknowledge, Bachmann has won in tough years for Republicans (2006 and 2008) nationally. But, her campaign for president in 2012 -- in which she regularly touted the fact that she was born in Iowa and spent oodles of time out of the state -- coupled with her tendency to misstate facts have changed the political equation for Bachmann, her detractors argue.
"She has committed so many self-inflicted wounds by misstating facts, her constant self promoting, her inability to retain staff, and build relationships among other Congressional members that she is now doomed to spend the rest of her career fighting for reelection in the safest Republican district in the state," said Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican campaign hand who, for a time, managed Bachmann's presidential bid. "She has done this all in 18 months."
Democrats are optimistic that Jim Graves, who came within 5,000 votes of beating Bachmann despite being outspent at a 7 to 1 clip, will run again and this time will have the full force of the national party behind him.
Because of her past tendency to underperform the Republican nature of her district and the fact that she is a lightning rod (and fundraising tool) for Democrats nationally, Bachmann will always have a small margin for error when it comes to winning re-election.
But, the Republican underpinnings of her seat remain strong enough that unless the preliminary ethics probe regarding her use of campaign funds blows up into a broader investigation that leads to some sort of public penalty, Bachmann -- still -- has to be considered a favorite for re-election in 2014.