ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's quick move Tuesday to squelch concerns about her history of severe headaches came in contrast to slower and more muted reaction in recent weeks to other uncomfortable news.
Hours after a report the Minnesota congresswoman has been "incapacitated" in the past by migraine headaches, Bachmann's spokeswoman fired back and the candidate later issued a lengthy statement that rejected suggestions her health would prevent her from serving as president.
"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," Bachmann said in a statement issued through her campaign. She also read the prepared remarks aloud during a campaign stop in South Carolina.
Inside her campaign and out, there was recognition that health questions can't go unchecked for long – unlike storylines about her family's views toward gay relationships or her decision to break with a conservative Lutheran church that lingered as Bachmann declined to discuss them in detail.
"This thing goes to fitness. This goes to physical capability. It had to be responded to chop chop," said Republican strategist Mike McKenna. "The other stuff is subject to different political judgment."
Bachmann's response to the migraines report was far faster and more decisive than earlier reactions to stories about her life outside of politics. For example, when a gay activist's undercover video raised questions about practices at her husband's counseling clinic, Bachmann declined to be interviewed. Her spokeswoman issued only a brief statement.
Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben said Bachmann puts matters related to her physical well-being in a different category than the other questions, which the campaign sometimes regards as distractions from her focus on economic policies and other issues it believes are of greater concern to voters.
The intense scrutiny has coincided with Bachmann's ascent into the top ranks of GOP presidential candidates. Bachmann, a three-term congresswoman, is viewed as a tea party force who is polling well in the first-to-vote state of Iowa.
Former aides granted anonymity were cited in the headache story published late Monday by The Daily Caller, an online news site. The story said Bachmann's migraines have led to hospitalizations and, at times, left her "incapacitated."
Bachmann said her symptoms are controlled with prescription medication and have not gotten in the way of her campaign or impaired her service in Congress.
"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," Bachmann said.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, at least 36 million Americans – and far more women than men – experience migraines. They can cause dizziness and fatigue, but also can be disabling and lead to greater risk of stroke and heart problems.
Nothing requires presidential candidates to release detailed medical records, but it has been common practice for decades – although not usually this early in a campaign. None of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates have made comprehensive disclosures about their health.
Dr. Howard Markel, a scholar of medical history at the University of Michigan, has written about the public's desire to know more about the health of presidential candidates.
Markel said Bachmann's confirmation of migraine problems is "revealing something that in years past would not even meet the test. Do you care about everything that a presidential candidate has: a hangnail, a Plantar wart or a torn tricep? Probably not."