ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of Michele Bachmann's closest advisers during her rapid political rise was her husband, Marcus. He also was one of the least visible, happy to stand in his wife's shadow even as her career took her to Washington.
These days, both Bachmanns are finding there's no escape from the scrutiny that follows a candidate who rockets into the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls, and Marcus Bachmann has been forced to defend his Christian counseling business from claims its therapies include "curing" people of being gay.
In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published Friday, Marcus Bachmann did not deny he and other counselors at Bachmann and Associates Inc. have attempted to convert gay patients. But he said it's not a special interest of the practice and would only be attempted if a client requested it.
"Will I address it? Certainly we'll talk about it," Bachmann told the newspaper, in response to a question about an undercover investigation by a gay activist that showed a counselor at the clinic offering the therapy. "Is it a remedy form that I typically would use? ... It is at the client's discretion."
Bachmann's campaign this week turned down multiple Associated Press requests to interview Marcus and Michele Bachmann. The campaign also did not respond to an emailed list of basic biographical questions about Marcus Bachmann.
The Bachmanns and people who know them describe a couple who connected in college in southeastern Minnesota, brought together in part by their deep Christian faith. Over time they raised five children, fostered 23 others, and built separate careers. She was a tax attorney, a school board candidate, a state legislator and a congresswoman; he built the counseling business they now own together.
As his wife's star rose, Marcus Bachmann increasingly balanced his two suburban Twin Cities clinics with growing responsibilities at the family's suburban St. Paul home.
"Without him, she couldn't be doing what she's doing," said JoAnne Hood, a former neighbor who said she's still close to the family. "He would leave notes on the kitchen island to each of the kids with a list of their chores for the day. He'll buy the flowers in the spring and plant them in the planter boxes. He runs the whole show."
Marcus Bachmann is one of three sons of a Swiss couple who upon their marriage in 1950 emigrated to the U.S. and bought a dairy farm in southwestern Wisconsin that the family still owns. Hood described him as "just a farm boy – he's jovial, he's genuine, he's all about family, just an all-around good guy."
He met Michele Amble when they were undergraduates at Winona State University in 1976.
"And then the Lord led me to this man ..." Michele Bachmann recalled during a 2006 speech at Living Word Christian Center near Minneapolis. "Led me to him, and showed me that this was also part of my calling. That my calling was to marry this man."
They married in 1978, around the time they switched their political allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party.
Marcus Bachmann, now 55, is often at wife's side while she campaigns. Tall and burly where she is short and petite, friends say Marcus Bachmann sometimes acts as a bodyguard of sorts as his wife draws larger crowds.
Former aides and associates say Marcus Bachmann appears to be his wife's closest adviser. But he rarely speaks on her behalf in a political setting, and even longtime allies of Michele Bachmann say they don't know him well; the most frequent impression is of a quiet and good-natured man, amiable and laid-back in contrast to his wife's perky charisma.
"He's her closest confidante," said Warren Limmer, a Republican state senator in Minnesota who teamed with Michele Bachmann during her crusade for a state constitutional gay marriage ban in 2005 and 2006.
While avoiding his wife's political spotlight, Marcus Bachmann has been a regular guest on Christian and inspirational radio programs – sometimes making comments that have resurfaced amid his wife's presidential bid.
In one frequently cited interview with the Point of View radio show in May 2010, Bachmann seemed to suggest gay people were "barbarians" to a question about how Christian parents should respond if their children come out. A clip on YouTube includes the statement:
"But again, it is as if we have to understand: Barbarians need to be educated, they need to be disciplined, and just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we're supposed to go down that road. That's what's called a sinful nature. And we have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings to move into the action steps," the clip shows Bachmann saying.
In the Star Tribune interview, Marcus Bachmann said that interview clip was doctored and that he would never call gay people barbarians. "That's not my mindset. That's not my belief system," he told the newspaper.
The original interview was not available on the Point of View website, and the company was unable to provide a copy of it Friday.
Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.