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NPR Series: The Spark

  • The 75-year-old Texas congressman is a lonely voice in Congress: He rails against government spending, argues against wars and calls for the legalization of drugs. But Paul, who has run for president twice before, packs halls on college campuses.
  • The former House speaker visited the World War I battlefield of Verdun, in France, as a 15-year-old Army brat. That glimpse of the brutality of war, he says, set him on his course in politics.
  • When TV news shows want somebody to enthusiastically rip into President Obama, Michele Bachmann is a reliable choice. The Minnesota congresswoman is a polarizing figure — and a Tea Party favorite. But her first presidential campaign experience came from a place today's political observers would least expect.
  • Though he spent years as a Southern Baptist minister, the former Arkansas governor says he always considered politics his calling.
  • The African-American businessman and Tea Party favorite has never held an elective office, but he's been making the rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO got his first taste of the national spotlight at a 1994 town hall meeting, when he became known as the "pizza man" who helped derail the Clinton health care plan.
  • The former Republican senator is best known for his outspoken support of conservative social causes. But it wasn't abortion or same-sex marriage that originally got him involved in politics — it was an auspicious college assignment.
  • The Indiana governor's first campaign was at Boys State in the late '60s. Tellingly, he picked a candidate and managed the campaign rather than run himself. In fact, until he ran for governor in 2004, Daniels stayed behind the scenes. "This was something I was interested in," he says, "but [it] wasn't an obsession with me."
  • After losing an election for senior class president, the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China dropped out of high school and joined a rock band — not your typical path into Republican presidential politics. But friends and colleagues say Huntsman hasn't often done things by the book.
  • The former Massachusetts governor's first brush with big-time politics came in 1962, when his father ran for governor of Michigan. When Mitt entered politics, it was as a centrist, like his father. That came after a successful business career, also like his father. But Romney hopes to do one thing his father never did — add president to his resume.