ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - One hand clutches a crisply folded U.S. flag with a concealed weapons certification protruding; the other slides discreetly into a denim coat pocket. Behind the beaming state lawmaker, a silhouette target with bullet holes square in the chest. Next to her nameplate, a "No New Taxes!" sticker.
The 2005 photo captures Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann's essence.
In Bachmann's quick rise from state lawmaker to unofficial tea party ambassador in Washington, her brazen style has kept Republican leaders on edge and appealed to those in the GOP searching for a fresh, unfettered voice. She relishes the spotlight and seldom cedes ground.
Her unpredictable edge was on display during Monday night's GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire when, out of the blue, she announced that she had filed papers to be an official candidate for the Republican nomination.
"I do what I say and I say what I mean and I don't change what I do based on a political wind or desire to necessarily move up the next ladder," Bachmann told The Associated Press this spring in an interview in which she stressed her eagerness to "take on not only the opposing party but my own party as well to do what I think is right."
Known for piercing and sometimes inaccurate commentary, she regularly aggravates political foes and provides ample fodder to late-night comics. She once falsely claimed taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for Democratic President Barack Obama's trip to India. She mistakenly identified New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots. (That key American moment occurred in Massachusetts.)
While some see her as a novelty candidate, she's also regarded as a skilled, resilient politician.
"I know people like to pick at her," said Dan Nygaard, a local Republican official during Bachmann's early days in politics. "But you can never underestimate her."
Her personal evolution is striking.
In college, Bachmann volunteered on Democrat Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and took her maiden trip to Washington to revel in his inauguration; now she's a congressional megaphone for the conservative tea party. As a young government lawyer, Bachmann helped chase tax dodgers for the Internal Revenue Service; now she stokes worry about a swarm of IRS agents enforcing the new health insurance law she's determined to repeal. In 1999, Bachmann failed to win a local school board seat; now she's a factor in the race for the nation's highest office.
Carter's evangelical Christian beliefs attracted her, she says, while his struggles to rescue the country from a funk turned her away. Bachmann says the tax work gave her a deeper understanding of a tax code she came to regard as flawed.
Bachmann, 55, was born Michele Marie Amble in Waterloo, Iowa. Her father's engineering job led the family, including Michele and three brothers, to Minnesota when she was in elementary school. By high school, her parents had divorced. She stayed with her mother, who later remarried.
Michele Amble married college boyfriend Marcus Bachmann, a clinical therapist. The youngest of their five children will soon head off to college.
Religion has always factored heavily into Bachmann's life. She was in the last class to graduate from Oral Roberts University's now-defunct Coburn School of Law, a school dedicated to educating lawyers with Christian values. (Anita Hill, later involved in the scandal that nearly sank Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination, taught a couple of Bachmann's classes.)