On stage with six other White House hopefuls at a debate in New Hampshire, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., announced Monday that she has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to establish a presidential campaign committee, putting to rest months of speculation that the tea party firebrand would jump into the Republican race. Her official announcement will come later this month in Waterloo, Iowa.
The decision by Bachmann, 55, gives the field an outspoken, telegenic female contender with an enthusiastic band of conservative followers--a role that once appeared to be destined for the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. While Palin has remained noncommittal about a presidential race, Bachmann's embrace of the tea party movement has vaulted her from a virtual political unknown when she was first elected to Congress five years ago to one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2011.
Bachmann also boasts roots in the evangelical community - an asset that could help her bridge the divide between social conservatives and the fiscally-focused tea party.
One striking sign of her appeal: In the first quarter of this year, her fundraising bested that of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumed front runner of the Republican presidential field.
In a May interview, Bachmann told National Journal that 2012 is the year for leaders to emerge from outside the traditional GOP power centers.
"I think the country's in a situation right now where we can't take an establishment candidate from either party," she said. "We need someone new and different and bold who's to do say what they mean and mean what they say, and do it, even if it means being a one-term president, and that's what I'm willing to do."
But the three-term congresswoman from suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul faces a daunting historical challenge: Just three of the sitting House members who have run for president made it to the general election ballot. Only one was successful: Republican James Garfield in 1880.