Rep. Michele Bachmann To Leave Congress

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Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has announced she will not seek re-election next year. That's taken some of her constituents by surprise. They are wondering what's behind her decision not to campaign for a fifth term.

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Less than two years ago, Michele Bachmann's star seemed to be rising. The Republican congresswoman from Minnesota was full of energy and delighted her supporters - many in the Tea Party - when she announced she was running for president. Now, her presidential bid is being investigated. She won her congressional seat back - barely, and now she's announced she won't run again next year.

This has taken people by surprise, especially in her home district. Minnesota public radio's Conrad Wilson reports.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: In a video announcing her decision to not run for office next year, Michele Bachmann defended her four terms in Congress while at the same time, leaving her options open.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: There is no future option or opportunity - be it directly in the political arena or otherwise - that I won't be giving serious consideration.

WILSON: Bachmann's message was a sharp reversal from this June 2011 rally, the day before she formerly launched her presidential campaign in Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

BACHMANN: My name is Michele Bachmann, and tomorrow, I am going to announce that I'm running for the presidency of the United States of America.

WILSON: Bachmann went on to win the Iowa Straw Poll later that summer, but that turned out to be the peak of her campaign. After a near last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, she left the race turning her attention towards winning reelection in her central Minnesota district. There, she faced a political newcomer, businessman Jim Graves, who came surprisingly close to beating her.

Bachmann eked out a victory by only 4,300 votes. The narrow win last November was followed by a series of campaign investigations. The Office of Congressional Ethics and the Federal Elections Commission are looking into her presidential campaign. Some former campaign staffers say they've been contacted by the FBI. Just last month, Graves announced he would again challenge Bachmann.

But in her video address, Bachmann insisted that neither Graves nor the investigations influenced her decision to not seek reelection. Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says the failed presidential bid is only part of Bachmann's problems.

STEVEN SCHIER: The question of multiple investigations into her presidential campaign, the fact that she is not that popular in her district and barely won reelection in the most Republican district in the state, put it all together, and all of those point in one direction: Don't run for reelection.

WILSON: Ever a polarizing figure, constituents in Bachmann's district had equally sharp responses to Wednesday's announcement. Jerry Deno was sitting outside the Emma' Express gas station with a group of friends in Albertville, a town about 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He's glad Michele Bachmann isn't running again.

JERRY DENO: I think it's the greatest thing that's ever happened. I don't care who runs against her, Mickey Mouse, Goofy. I'd vote for them first. Her comments during the presidential election, she never - she beat around the bush. She never answered any questions. She made herself appear really stupid, as far as I was concerned.

WILSON: Others in Bachmann's district felt differently. In St. Cloud, Sheri Frank says she's sorry to see her go.

SHERI FRANK: I love Michele Bachmann. I think she's very proactive.

WILSON: Frank says she hopes Bachmann's decision to not run for Congress next year means she's gearing up for another big campaign.

FRANK: I'm hoping she's going to run for president again. That's what I hope is going on. I don't think it has anything to do with the controversy that's going on with her funding her whatever.

WILSON: While Michele Bachmann isn't saying what's next, University of Minnesota political scientist, Kathryn Pearson, says her legacy in Congress is clear.

KATHRYN PEARSON: There isn't going to be one major piece of legislation that she's known for, but she will be long remembered for her outspoken criticism of the Obama administration and, frankly, for the problems she has caused for Republican leaders.

WILSON: And they just may be the big political winners here. With Bachmann gone, Congressional GOP leaders might have an easier time controlling their members. For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

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