Bachmann Tries To Regain Early Iowa Lead

fromWOI

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann once appeared to be the favored Republican presidential candidate in Iowa. But she's been near the bottom of most polls since. Bachmann is making an aggressive push to finish well in next month's Iowa caucuses, and she embarks on a multi-day bus tour of the state Friday.

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And as we just heard, Michele Bachmann came out swinging in last night's debate. Today she sets off on a bus tour of Iowa. She's promised that in the next 10 days she will visit all 99 counties.

As Iowa Public Radio's Sarah McCammon reports, it could be the last chance for the Minnesota congresswoman to regain momentum.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: For most Iowans on these chilly December days, August seems like a long time ago. But greeting supporters at her Iowa headquarters recently, Michele Bachmann urged them to think back to a warmer time of year.

MICHELE BACHMANN: There's only been one election in this race so far, the Iowa straw poll, and the Bachmann team won the Iowa straw poll.

MCCAMMON: Bachmann has struggled to maintain support since winning the unofficial Ames straw poll this summer. That's despite a dozen paid staff in Iowa, one of the largest campaigns. Another blow came in October when her New Hampshire team quite en masse over reported conflicts with the national campaign. Bachmann's Iowa campaign manager, Eric Wilson, says her narrow focus here could actually work in her favor.

ERIC WILSON: I think some of the other candidates who are dividing their time between Iowa and New Hampshire aren't going to be able to be here when they need to be here. And so I think everything is coming together for her at just the right time. As we've seen in caucuses past, it's the candidates that get hot at the end that end up doing very, very well on caucus night.

MCCAMMON: Wilson says he's also excited about Bachmann's prospects in South Carolina, a state he describes as receptive to her message. But she's only pulling in single digits there. Supporter Vivian Lansbury(ph) of Des Moines says she's not worried about the poll.

VIVIAN LANSBURY: It doesn't make any difference because it's not over till it's over.

MCCAMMON: Until then, Bachmann's team is staying on message, insisting she can win Iowa. Wilson says in his mind it's not a possibility she'll fail to place in the top three.

WILSON: Iowa's always been about finishing first, second or third. The candidates that come out of here in those positions tend to go into New Hampshire with a real head of steam, and I think she certainly can do that in any of those positions and is poised to do well in South Carolina as well. But our goal certainly is to win on January 3.

MCCAMMON: That's a risky strategy, says political scientist Chris Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa. He says Bachmann's in real danger of dropping out soon, perhaps even before New Hampshire, if she performs poorly in the caucuses.

CHRIS LARIMER: I think for her campaign the wise strategy at this point is to pitch it as though finishing in the top three will be exceeding expectations.

MCCAMMON: Larimer says Iowa isn't quite as critical for other contenders at the bottom of the pack, like Texas Governor Rick Perry with his well-financed organization, or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who's better known in New Hampshire. At a press conference in Des Moines this week, I asked Bachmann if she'll stay in the race after Iowa if she can't move into the top three.

BACHMANN: Actually, we had a very good poll that came out from the AP nationally and we right now are tied for, I believe it's second place, so we are thrilled.

MCCAMMON: If you come in below number three, will you continue?

BACHMANN: We are showing strong, we're moving up. And as we've seen in this race, momentum is everything. And candidates move up and candidates move down. We are very excited about where we are.

MCCAMMON: The most recent Associated Press survey actually showed Bachmann tied with Ron Paul for a distant third place at 9 percent among likely Republican voters. With her win at the Ames straw poll now a distant memory, it may be telling that she sees that poll as a small victory. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Des Moines.

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