Marcus Bachmann, Mr. Mixed Blessing

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According to Gallup, about 70% of Republicans know who Rep. Michele Bachmann is. As her presidential bid continues, people will also start to recognize a certain silver-haired man in her retinue: her husband, Marcus Bachmann. Last Tuesday, both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran front page-photos of the congresswoman announcing her candidacy. The Post chose an image of Bachmann embracing her husband, their foreheads pressed together in front of a crowd. But the Times chose a photo featuring Marcus in his more typical state: off camera.

In an interview, former Bachmann chief of staff Ron Carey spoke highly of the couple’s relationship. (He may have been eager to highlight something positive after his Des Moines Register op-ed last week, in which he said Bachmann lacks “the judgment, the demeanor, and the readiness to serve as President” and that her campaigns were “wildly out of control.”) He called the Bachmanns’ relationship a “model marriage,” with Marcus acting as a counterbalance to Michele’s “more impulsive and excitable” demeanor.

Michele and Marcus, the latter now the head of a Christian counseling practice, met at Winona State University in Minnesota and bonded over their teenage comings-to-Jesus. During their senior year, both volunteered for Jimmy Carter and attended his inaugural ball. After the campaign, their anti-abortion stances were solidified in concert as they watched a Christian documentary. Today, Carey says, the two social-conservatives remain “joined at the hip on their ideology.”

Marcus describes himself as a “strategist” for Michele and has a reputation for being a supportive, constant presence on the trail. Carey says Marcus is in the “top quartile” of spouses he’s seen over the years when it comes to campaign involvement. In a radio interview conducted shortly after Michele had a prickly exchange with former Sen. Arlen Specter—“I’ll treat you like a lady. Now act like one,” Specter said—Marcus described himself as “boiling.” And after an opponent aired an attack ad against her in 2010, Marcus sent an e-mail to supporters decrying “transparent attempts to lure my wife into a grade school cussing match.”

His role as a father and husband for more than 30 years is also integral to Michele’s biography. He helped her raise the 23 foster kids she so often mentions, as well as their five biological children. Many of their wards were girls with eating disorders, and his role as a therapist has been highlighted as an asset in their care. “It would be hard to find somebody who would say an ill word about Marcus,” Carey said. But it’s really not that hard: while he might be more soft-spoken than his wife, Marcus shares some of her divisive attributes.

Marcus has made incendiary remarks about homosexuality in the context of his work, drawing criticism and even viral attacks from supporters of the gay community. In a radio interview posted on YouTube, Marcus likened a teenager questioning her sexuality to a “barbarian” who needs to be educated. Critics have spread conspiracy theories that his Christian clinic aims to “cure” homosexuality, which Marcus denies. He encourages people in therapy to concentrate on God instead of their feelings, he has said.

There’s also been controversy over Bachmann’s use of government subsidies, which cuts against his wife’s Tea Party message. Marcus’ unlicensed clinical practice has received roughly $30,000 in state funds, according to public records, and NBC News reports that it has taken $137,000 in Medicaid payments since 2005. There’s also the issue of Marcus Bachmann’s family’s farm, which has benefited from some $260,000 in agriculture subsidies.

This kind of baggage might not have meant much in Bachmann’s bids for Minnesota State Senate or the 6th District House seat, but it is getting more attention now that she’s under presidential-level scrutiny. As a rare “First Gentleman” prospect, Marcus Bachmann is liable to be treated with more interest and intensity than many other candidates’ spouses. And he can only remain out-of-frame for so long. “He does have strongly held beliefs, just as Michele does,” Carey said. “And he will defend those.”

Bachmann’s campaign declined to comment for this article.