Politics & Policy

Bachmann’s Iowa Play

Via Politico, it’s clear that Michele Bachmann is betting on Iowa:

In fact, in the two-and-a-half weeks since the straw poll, Bachmann is the only 2012 GOP contender not to visit the Granite State. From Rick Perry and Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Ron Paul, the rest of the White House hopefuls have all made stops in the state.

The Bachmann campaign conceded for the first time Wednesday that the state ranks low on its list of priorities.

“Iowa is our main focus right now, secondly is South Carolina,” Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart said in an email. “We do plan to build on our efforts in New Hampshire in due time.”

Over on the home page, I chat with Bachmann’s Iowa aides:

Perry’s Iowa rise is particularly troubling for Bachmann — a Waterloo, Iowa, native who has stressed her Hawkeye State roots. She attempted to buck up her ranks Wednesday, campaigning in Iowa for the first time since the straw poll, but some political observers wonder whether it is too late for her to recapture her pre-Perry buzz. “It’s very possible that Bachmann’s moment has simply come and gone,” says Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. As Perry surges, Ron Paul holds his base, and former Bay State governor Mitt Romney raises money, Bachmann needs to win “real contests,” Sabato says — starting with the Iowa caucuses.

Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren, who endorsed Bachmann earlier this summer, urges Bachmann to stop being “so guarded,” in order to rekindle her grassroots support. “The road ahead is getting much more difficult,” he says. “The addition of Rick Perry, and the possible addition of other candidates, is diluting her message substantially. I endorsed her because she has a passionate, articulate message. Do I think that is going to carry her to the nomination? I don’t. I think she has a lot of work still ahead of her to do.”

“Iowa is a key state for Michele,” Chelgren continues. “It’s key for her in a way that it’s not for the other candidates. It’s been written off, for instance, by Mitt Romney.” That leaves an opening for Bachmann, he says — if she can reconnect with conservatives. “For her to win, I think she needs to get back to the basics, be passionate, and realize she’s not the frontrunner. She does much better when she is the underdog.” Chuck Laudner, a former Iowa GOP executive director, agrees. “Instead of hopping on and off the bus, she needs to be getting back into the crowds, building personal relationships, being omnipresent. That’ll insulate her.”

Bachmann’s Iowa team is confident that she can continue to build — and recognizes that the caucuses are the campaign’s keystone. “She continues to look strong,” says Bachmann supporter Danny Carroll, a former state lawmaker and co-chairman for Mike Huckabee’s caucus-winning 2008 campaign, “Since the straw poll, as one would expect, she has become a higher-profile target, and the entry of Governor Perry has brought in a new dynamic. But if she remains strong and true to her convictions, as pressure begins to mount, she is going to do well.”

State senator Brad Zaun, Bachmann’s Iowa co-chairman, adds that Bachmann got a “big bump” from the straw poll, which he calls a “dress rehearsal” for the caucuses. That said, he recognizes that Bachmann’s campaign will need to adjust, and he notes that the congresswoman is already shaking up her method of campaigning. In her visit to Iowa Wednesday, Bachmann left her big, blue bus in the parking lot and took a car to visit business leaders. “She’s going to be here a lot,” Zaun says, and is open to fiddling with the tempo of her trail stops. In Iowa, he says, Bachmann has learned that at certain times, small, targeted events work better than rallies.

More here.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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