The Chosen One

Michele Bachmann's recipe for success: Christian piety and not-so-Christian opportunism

Still, Laidig didn't think much of it: "It dawned on me that this [education activism] was her new gig, but I never thought she was going to run for my seat."

But that's exactly what happened. Laidig believes, in retrospect, that he was one of a number of moderate Republicans targeted by elements of their own party as vulnerable candidates in the run-up to the 2000 races. "And it became a different kind of party," he says. "Suddenly all of these religious litmus tests were going on, and they were getting support in the churches. My father was a very conservative minister, and very politically active. But never once did he bring the pulpit to politics, and he never brought politics to the pulpit."

On April 1, 2000, the GOP held its endorsing convention for the District 56 Senate seat. Laidig was immediately put off when he saw a number of new delegates—churchgoers. He also realized that they were against him, calling him "a Republican in name only," despite his 30 years of service to the party. To his surprise, he had an opponent—Michele Bachmann—and was caught off-guard. Bachmann won the endorsement on the first ballot. (The two went on to face off in the primary, which Bachmann won.)

Robin Eley

"It hit me like a tsunami," Laidig says. "I heard the rumble out there, but I never thought the wave would come."

"Republican Senator Loses Endorsement Over Profile," read a post-mortem headline on the Maple River website. "Senator Laidig is known as the senator who for years has been opposing the party platform, and local activists wanted to support a candidate who would support them at the legislature," the story said in reference to the religious-right voting bloc that ousted Laidig.

The story went on to contend that "Dr. Bachmann herself, who had no intention of running, was shocked by her victory," and that a "spontaneous and genuine draft effort" had convinced Bachmann to run. "I came in wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and moccasins, and I had no makeup on at all," the story quotes Bachmann as saying. "I had not one piece of literature, I had made not one phone call, and spent not five cents and I did not solicit a vote."

"Absolute bullshit," Laidig says now. "She planned this all along."

WHILE Michele Bachmann was rising through the political ranks, her husband Marcus—a lumbering, soft-featured man—was working toward a psychology doctorate and a practice in Lake Elmo. There is an overt Christian theme attached to the practice. "Bachmann and Associates believes in providing all clients with quality counseling in a Christian environment," reads the mission statement on the business's website. Some of the listed specialties of the clinic and its counselors include "abuse issues," "co-dependency," "men's and women's issues," "shame," and "spiritual issues."

But some observers claim that the mission of the practice includes counseling homosexuals in an effort to "ungay" them. "It is absolutely sincere," adds former school board member Cecconi. "They specialize in 'reparation' regarding sexual orientation."

Marcus Bachmann, who is also 50, denies that is part of his clinic's practice. "That's a false statement," he says, refusing to answer any questions that don't have to do with Bachmann and Associates. "Am I aware that the perception is out there? I can't comment on that." Still, Bachmann offers, "If someone is interested in talking to us about their homosexuality, we are open to talking about that. But if someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay homosexual, I don't have a problem with that."

Questions about his work aside, Marcus Bachmann has never played much of a public role in his wife's campaigns, and neither her allies nor her detractors seem to know much about him. But many believe he has played a huge part in the evolution of Michele Bachmann's religious convictions and, in turn, her political career. At the GOP endorsing convention in May, he worked the floor of delegates for his wife. Before that, he had gone on the political offensive. "She's pro-life, pro-family, and knows the values of the [Sixth] district," he told the Stillwater Courier in March 2006. "Whatever's left, she'll eat for dessert." He added that his wife would "eat up" Patty Wetterling in the general election.

Stepbrother Michael LaFave remembers that the Bachmanns' born-again identity started to cause divisions in the family sometime in the mid-1980s. "She kind of went all the way back to the Old Testament, and wouldn't eat pork and things like that," LaFave says. "Things got much more rigid around them. She got into it very deeply. I don't want to say she went off the deep end, but you might say something like that." With respect to Marcus Bachmann, LaFave says he has always "purposely stayed at arm's length. We just chit-chat about the family when we see each other."

On the campaign trail, Michele Bachmann has said her husband grew up on a family dairy farm in western Wisconsin. According to a brief biography that ran in the Forest Lake Times when Bachmann and Associates opened an office there in March 2005, he earned a master's degree in counseling from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a school then affiliated with Christian Broadcasting Network pitchman Pat Robertson. Bachmann later was awarded a doctorate in clinical psychology from an institution listed as Union Graduate School on his clinic's website, an apparent reference to Union Institute in Cincinnati, though nothing on either of the Bachmanns' public résumés suggests they ever lived in Ohio.

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