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Facing mounting ethics inquiries and the toughest reelection campaign of her career, Tea Party standard-bearer Michele Bachmann announced this morning that she will not seek another term in the House of Representatives next year.
“After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth congressional term to represent the wonderful people of the 6th District of Minnesota. After serious consideration, I am confident that this is the right decision,” she says in a video posted on her website. The decision had nothing to do with her electoral prospects or ethics issues, she says explicitly, but rather a belief in term limits. Still, it’s hard to look at a recent poll that found the congresswoman down 2 points and believe it was irrelevant.
It’s a long fall for Bachmann, who has irritated the left and galvanized the right better than any politician out there. Just two years ago, she was a viable contender for the Republican presidential nomination, months away from winning the Ames Straw Poll. Before that, she founded the Tea Party Caucus in the House, channeling the grass-roots conservative movement into a potent ground force and ATM for her own ambitions.
But in 2012, she barely hung on to her seat, edging out Democratic challenger Jim Graves by fewer than 5,000 votes. This year, Graves was ready to try again, getting into the race early and with higher name ID and more money. And with several different investigations into her presidential campaign, the ethics questions “could be a career ender for Michele Bachmann,” a government watchdog told me earlier this month.
Democrats, naturally, are gleeful about the news. “Michele Bachmann’s decision to retire from Congress is good news for the people of Minnesota and our nation,” the Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC said in a statement. Even so, she was arguably more valuable to Democrats as a face of the House GOP caucus. As the saying goes, they won’t have Bachmann to kick around anymore. And one expects she won’t drop out of politics entirely, but remain somehow involved, like ousted Tea Party Rep. Allen West.
UPDATE: The Graves campaign sent over this statement: “This serves to show that even Rep. Bachmann is hearing that Minnesota’s 6th is ready for a new, business-oriented approach. As recent polling indicates, our message is resonating with the people of the 6th District and she recognized that. She must also have recognized that it would be an uphill battle for her going forward. People are eager to be represented by a common-sense business person who understands the economy from the inside out.”
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.