Michele Bachmann’s rise and fall in the 2012 Republican primary

at 05:00 PM ET, 09/06/2011


Rep Michele Bachmann has struggled to build on her victory coming out of the Ames Straw Poll last month. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
In politics, things change fast.

Less than a month ago, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann sat atop the political world fresh off her win at the Ames Straw Poll.

Today, two new polls show Bachmann’s support badly eroding — a finding that when coupled with a Labor Day staff shakeup raise serious questions about her ability to recapture the momentum that shot her into the top tier over the summer.

In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Bachmann now stands at six percent in a hypothetical 2012 Republican primary ballot, well short of the 13 percent she took in a mid-July Post/ABC survey of registered voters

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows a similar decline with Bachmann now winning 8 percent — half of the 16 percent she received in July.

There appear to be a few reasons for Bachmann’s slippage.

The first — and most obvious — is that the entrance of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the 2012 contest has effectively robbed Bachmann of her status as the burgeoning tea party darling.

In the July NBC/WSJ poll, Bachmann took 20 percent among tea party supporters, second only to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who, thanks to a broad name identification edge over the field at that time, received 24 percent. Perry, still a month from becoming an official candidate when that poll was taken, took 13 percent among self identified tea party supporters.

Fast forward to today where Perry takes 45 percent among tea partiers as compared to 18 percent for Romney and 10 percent for Texas Rep. Ron Pau l. Bachmann comes in at just seven percent — losing nearly to-thirds of her support from the July survey.

That erosion seems tied to a lack of faith in Bachmann’s ability to handle the predominant issue of the day — the economy — as well as doubts about whether she can beat President Obama next fall.

In the Post/ABC poll just five percent said Bachmann would do the best job of handling the economy of anyone in the GOP field; Perry and Romney led the way on that question with 22 percent each. (Bachmann ranked below the likes of Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)

And, just four percent said that Bachmann gave the GOP the best chance to beat President Obama in 2012, well behind the 30 percent who said the same of Perry.

Viewed broadly, it appears as though Bachmann’s moment — at least for the moment — has passed.

Perry is in the process of consolidating tea party support behind his candidacy, making Bachmann’s road to the nomination quite difficult given what will almost certainly be her struggle to win over non-tea party supporters within the GOP. (Bachmann’s attempts to peel away tea party support from Perry could be further complicated if former Alaska governor Sarah Palin decides to run.)

Bachmann is also grappling with a Republican party that is a) laser focused on economic issues — even among those who describe themselves as social conservatives and b) desperate to nominate someone who can beat President Obama.

She is not viewed as the strongest candidate on either front and that’s why she has tumbled so precipitously in the ballot test.

While polls are — always — just a snapshot in time, there will be real world impacts for Bachmann from the two new surveys.

Among them:

1. Bachmann is likely to struggle to raise money or, at the very least, to expand beyond her small-dollar donor base into the more establishment money sources within the party. Donors generally like to invest in candidates they believe can (and will) win and right now that’s not Bachmann.

2. The already developing storyline that this is a two-person race between Perry and Romney will solidify, making it harder for Bachmann to (re)break into that top tier. The effects of the latest polling are likely to be felt as soon as Wednesday night when Bachmann may find herself struggling for speaking time in the NBC/Politico debate in California.

3. Bachmann’s campaign team, to date, has been remarkably disciplined with few leaks about anything emerging. But, the decision by campaign manager Ed Rollins to take on an advisory role and deputy campaign manager David Polyansky’s decision to leave the team entirely suggests that there is some level of internal dissension about the direction of the campaign. When campaigns start to struggle, the people whose advice is not being listened to tend to take their complaints public and, in so doing, focus the coverage on process — the “why” and “how” questions that derail candidates’ preferred messages.

It’s worth remembering that there are still 153 days before the first votes of the 2012 race are taken in Iowa on Feb. 6. And Bachmann came from nowhere to become a contender — and remains that same charismatic figure that won the Ames Straw Poll last month.

But these poll numbers suggest that Bachmann is heading in the wrong direction in the race and needs to find a way to turn things around — and fast.

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