Michele Bachmann’s path since she edged out Rep. Ron Paul in the Iowa straw poll has been marked by steady decline, major staff changes, and the entrance and surge of several candidates who cut into her dominance among social conservatives.
But her strategy remains the same: Win the Iowa Caucus or go home.
On Thursday, she kicks off a 3-day swing of Iowa, where she will tout her jobs plan, which she released ahead of the Republican debate. The plan calls for repealing health care and financial regulation legislation and cutting taxes.
Her campaign has continued to add staff in Iowa and she plans to spend at least 30 days in the state ahead of the Jan. 3 caucus.
“She is without a doubt the best retail politician in this race, she shakes every hand, and takes pictures and she enjoys that,” said Alice Stewart, a press aide. “She thrives on what the people demand in the early states, and that’s one-on-one time with the candidate.”
Yet some say she hasn’t spent nearly enough time in the state, and has failed to build on the momentum she had after her straw poll win.
“She won the straw poll and didn’t take a victory lap. You would think she would want to live here because if she doesn’t finish a strong second here, there is no South Carolina,” said Steve Deace, who runs the political website of the same name. “Two months ago people thought she was gutsy and bold, now they see a talking points machine.”
Deace said Bachmann’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” where she made light of her stance on homosexuality, was particularly hurtful. Asked about her clinic’s emphasis on “gay reparative therapy” Bachmann said that she thought “pray the gay away” was really “pray the gray away.”
“When she punts on opportunities to separate herself or melts down on the Tonight Show, that matters. Nobody cares if she gives Jon Stewart a bloopers reel,” Deace said. “She has the infrastructure to reboot herself if she is capable of doing that. She has to rediscover her titanium spine.”
Bachmann’s campaign boasts the support of at least 100 preachers in Iowa and has been a favorite of home schoolers in Iowa, a key bloc that helped Mike Huckabee win in 2008.
But as was evident in her narrow win over Paul and recent polls, Bachmann is by no means a lock for a win.
“It’s an interesting phase of the campaign, usually it’s easy to see who is doing well, but we really have four candidates who are organizing and putting themselves in a position to do well,” said Craig Robinson, editor of iowarepublican.com. “Nobody has emerged. Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul all have a shot.”
A Tuesday NBC/Marist poll shows Mitt Romney leading the GOP field in Iowa at 23 percent, Herman Cain at 20 percent and Michele Bachmann comes in at 10 percent and ties with Perry, a standing that doesn’t reflect the candidates’ on-the-ground presence in Iowa. Cain, for instance, has not been in Iowa since the straw poll, while Romney plans a visit next week.
Bachmann got off one of the best lines of the Republican debate on Tuesday when she criticized the Godfather’s Pizza CEO’s tax plan for not addressing jobs.
“When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down,” she said with a smile, ”I think the devil’s in the details.”
Bachmann will make a stop in Perry, Iowa, and undoubtedly go after her rival of the same name — she has been at the forefront of the assault on the Texas governor over his support of a state mandate on human papillomavirus (HPV) for girls, and has also hammered him for his support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Perry faced tough crowds in his last visit to Iowa and Bachmann’s campaign has tried to capitalize on his immigration policy.
“Even the people who aren’t the immigration hawks don’t feel like he dealt with it,” said Ryan Rhoades, a Bachmann backer and Tea Party leader in Iowa. Somebody is going to emerge as the Anti-Romney.”