NPR logo Michele Bachmann's Migraines Are Latest Question About Rising Political Star

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's Migraines Are Latest Question About Rising Political Star

Rep. Michele Bachmann in Columbia, SC, Tuesday, July 19, 2011. BRETT FLASHNICK/AP hide caption

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Rep. Michele Bachmann in Columbia, SC, Tuesday, July 19, 2011.


Fair or not, any person who runs for president has to expect that any serious medical issue could go from being a deeply private matter to something millions of people are discussing.

It's unclear that Rep. Michele Bachmann expected that her apparently chronic problem with migraine headaches, reportedly stress-induced, and the medication she takes for them would become an issue in her presidential campaign. But now it has after Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller broke the story Tuesday.

An excerpt:

"She has terrible migraine headaches. And they put her out of commission for a day or more at a time. They come out of nowhere, and they're unpredictable," says an adviser to Bachmann who was involved in her 2010 congressional campaign. "They level her. They put her down. It's actually sad. It's very painful."

Campaigning in South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidate, who's been coming in second after Mitt Romney in many polls, was forced to respond to the Daily Caller piece.

She read a statement, which said, in part:

"Since entering the campaign, I have maintained a full schedule between my duties as a congresswoman and as a presidential candidate traveling across the nation to meet with voters in the key, early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I have prescription medication that I take whenever symptoms arise and they keep the migraines under control. Let me be abundantly clear - my ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines and will not affect my ability to serve as Commander in Chief.

By the way, Time magazine's Swampland blog has a post that describes ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross being roughed up by members of Bachmann's security detail as he followed her to ask her if her migraines had ever caused her to miss legislative votes. It's a fairly disturbing scene as described by reporter Michael Crowley.

Anyone who has experienced a migraine, and many who haven't, will immediately sympathize with Bachmann for having to endure the excruciating pain such attacks bring on. (I had them as a youngster. The pain is nearly indescribable and incapacitating is exactly the right word. Fortunately, I seemed to grow out of mine.)

Bachmann's problems obviously now go beyond the migraines, however. Reporters will continue to ask the kinds of questions Ross did, especially since a Daily Caller source referred to the migraines as "incapacitating."

Anytime she cancels or postpones a campaign event or takes a few days off, questions will be asked about connections to migraines.

After her strong performance in the New Hampshire Republican presidential debate in May, Bachmann was seen as a rising star.

But with that kind of political rise comes a great deal of scrutiny as the Los Angeles Times' James Oliphant recently reported. Recent weeks have found Bachmann and her husband Marcus being examined for allegedly providing so-called gay reparative therapy based on the fringe idea that being gay is a choice, a preference rather than an orientation.

The congresswoman has also filed a number of police reports and requests for investigations and protection, as Marc Caputo reported for the Miami Herald which, taken together, have raised eyebrows, making some wonder if she has an abnormal sense of threat.

Some of Bachmann's supporters and others have questioned whether the congresswoman's migraines merit the attention they're receiving, especially since Bachmann herself says they're "under control."

But the information the Daily Caller reported from several sources contradicts how well controlled the migraines are. Which is why Bachmann can expect many more questions about this, including requests from reporters to talk with her doctor or doctors.

And Jamie Weinstein, also of the Daily Caller, makes the key assertion. It's really information voters might want to know as they decide whether Bachmann is the candidate most deserving of their votes.

There is no question that if Michele Bachmann suffers from the incapacitating, stress-induced migraines that sources close to her suggest she does that it would be a hindrance to her ability to handle the presidency. That is not the same as saying that the migraines disqualify her. The public may very well decide that she is so great a leader that her alleged incapacitating migraines are insignificant compared to the qualities she would bring to the Oval Office.

But the point is that it is up for the public to decide.

It may not seem fair. But many voters are still only learning the basics about Bachmann's biography since she isn't a political personality who's been on their TVs for, say a decade or more. So voters will want more information about her, not less.