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Minneapolis (CNN) -- She's been in the national spotlight only a few years, but in that fairly short amount of time, Michele Bachmann has gained real notoriety -- even if, at times, the attention has come for reasons that she may wish to put behind her.
In her third term representing Minnesota's 6th District, and on the brink of a major decision about a run for the presidency, this conservative Tea Party darling holds down the fort as founder of the 50-member House Tea Party Caucus. She shares the movement's widely held vision that government should be limited to only what the Constitution strictly spells out.
Bachmann has been called the next Sarah Palin. Perhaps it's because of their shared passion for the ideas behind the Tea Party. Perhaps it's the fact that the two are strong-willed female politicians.
Or, perhaps it's because, like Palin, Bachmann has been known as someone who may not be as concerned with facts as much as she is with making headlines.
But one political expert cautions against underestimating her because of those headlines.
In 2008, she attacked then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama for possibly having "anti-American views." She then called on the media to investigate anyone in Congress who may also be "anti-American." Accusations of McCarthyism soon flew.
When swine flu broke out in 2009, Bachmann implied that it was the Democrats' fault, saying, "I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under Democrat President Jimmy Carter." But the '70s outbreak came during the presidency of Republican President Gerald Ford.
She also perpetuated the falsehood that Obama's trip to India in November would cost $200 million a day. To her credit, she didn't make that figure up; it had come from an anonymous source to a news organization in India.
And more recently, she confused the locations of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord on a campaign-esque stop in New Hampshire.
But calling her unintelligent based on these mistakes would be an error, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.
"I think it'd be a big mistake to say, 'she failed the Trivial Pursuit question; therefore, she's not very smart,' " Jacobs said.
"She's very strategically smart. Michele Bachmann has taken on the political establishment throughout her career and has prevailed each time."
When Bachmann first ran for the Minnesota legislature in 2000, she faced a moderate Republican incumbent against whom few thought she'd have any chance.
"She won because of her organizational skill and her understanding of where she could build a base of support, particularly through churches and other conservative organizations in the district," Jacobs said.
Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, are born-again Christians, and it was God, she says, who encouraged her to run for higher office. A social conservative agenda -- one that included fiery support for an anti-same-sex marriage amendment in the state -- defined her six years in the state Senate. She was, as Jacobs put it, the "furthest out you could get" on the social conservative spectrum.
"She was the one introducing legislation that other Republicans were shy about signing on to."
Contrary to her conservatism of today, Bachmann was raised a Democrat.
Born in Waterloo, Iowa -- a fact she'll naturally play up big-time in that early caucus state -- she grew up in various cities across the Midwest and attended Winona State University. She met her husband while working on Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
Disillusioned with the Democrats' position on abortion rights, she switched from a "D" to an "R," supporting Ronald Reagan in 1980.
After earning a law degree at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and studying tax law at the College of William and Mary, she became an attorney for the U.S. Treasury Department in St. Paul, Minnesota, arguing civil and criminal tax cases.
Bachmann and her husband have raised five children and 23 foster kids. She placed the foster children in public school and, unhappy with what they were learning, ultimately ran for school board. It was her first attempt at political office, and though she lost, it ignited a passion for politics.
All signs point to Bachmann running for the nation's highest office: She's participating in CNN's New Hampshire debate next week, she's no stranger to the early caucus state of Iowa, and former CNN contributor and veteran Republican operative Ed Rollins recently signed on as a strategist to her all-but-official campaign.
If she does decide to run -- she says she'll make an announcement in Iowa this month -- Jacobs said, she certainly has the building blocks needed for a successful campaign: money, an enthusiastic base and distinguishing set of policy ideas.
"There are some serious assets for her to run, and I think the tendency to dismiss her is just not in touch with the hardcore reality of her kind of political balance sheet."