With Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll less than a week away, all eyes are on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to see whether the Tea Party princess can emerge as a frontrunner in the Republican presidential race.The stakes are high for Bachmann, who has made a pushed hard for support among Iowa’s conservative evangelicals, who make up 60% of the state’s GOP caucus voters.
Bachmann has made a point of highlighting her Christian roots, perhaps in response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s evangelical prayer rally in Houston yesterday.
The New Yorker today published a profile of the Minnesota congresswoman, from reporter Ryan Lizza, that delves into the candidate’s evangelical influences. The piece looks at how Bachmann has transformed herself from cable-news caricature of the Christian Right to a presidential candidate who is now the frontrunner in Iowa.
Lizza has some amusing anecdotes from aboard the Bachmann campaign plane — which the candidate calls her “Barbie Jet.” Marcus Bachmann, for instance, calls himself the “highest-maintenance traveller” on the campaign, and asked Lizza to explain to him why Newsweek would call him a “silver fox.”
At the heart of the profile, however, is an examination of the people and experiences that have turned Bachmann into a leader of the conservative Christian movement and a viable contender for the 2012 GOP presidential field.
Lizza notes that Bachmann has a highly professional campaign operation. Her team is made up of party stalwarts, who have transformed their candidate into a groomed and glamorous spokeswoman for the Tea Party movement.
Here are the key players for Team Bachmann:
- Ed Rollins, campaign manager. Rollins is renowned in Washington for managing Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign against Walter Mondale. Rollins also worked on the campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, Arianna Huffington, and, most recently, Mike Huckabee.
- Brett O'Donnell, speech and debate coach. O'Donnell worked for George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin, and also led the top-ranked debate team at Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
- Keith Nahigan, logistics. He also worked for McCain.
- Tamara Robertson, makeup artist. Bachmann poached Robertson from Fox News because she liked her work so much.
Bachmann has described her father, a former Air Force staff sergeant who died in 2003, as an 'authoritarian' and 'perhaps the most dominant human figure in my life.'
Her parents divorced in 1970, when Bachmann was 14. One month later, her father remarried a woman 12 years younger in Las Vegas and moved to California. Bachmann told Lizza she was devastated by the divorce, which left her mother impoverished.
Her father's absence played a key role in Bachmann's religious evolution. In a 2006 speech, Bachmann spoke about how the 'emotional struggles of not having a strong father in my life' lead her to join a high school prayer group and become a born-again Christian:
'I knew what darkness looked like. I knew it from my home life. I absolutely understood sin, and I wanted no part of it. When Jesus Christ came in and cleaned out this dark heart, that was light. That was rest. That was peace. It was refreshment....That didn't mean that I woke and all of a sudden I had money, all of a sudden I had position, all of a sudden I had education. It didn't. But what it meant was that all of a sudden I had a father.'
Bachmann met her husband, Marcus Bachmann, while the two were enrolled as students at Winona State University in Minnesota. According to Michele, each had a 'vision' from God that they would be married.
The Bachmanns were active in the evangelical student movement of the 1970s, and supported Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign. After the couple married in 1978, Marcus was influential in Bachmann's decision to study tax law at O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.
As we have previously reported, Marcus is an unlicensed psychologist who runs a Christian counseling clinic in Minnesota. He is a key figure to his wife's campaign, serving a unique role as a self-described 'political strategist,' personal assistant, and stylist.
Wilkens is a proponent of the 'theological war' thesis, a revisionist Civil War history that claims that the American South was an orthodox Christian nation attacked by the ungodly North. The theory became popular among evangelicals in the late 20th century.
Bachmann includes Wilkins' 1997 biography, 'Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee,' in a must-read list on her Minnesota State Senate campaign website. According to Lizza, the book condemns the 'radical abolitionists of New England,' and claims that most 'southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though--by modern standards--spare existence.
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