Republican Michele Bachmann is changing up her scenery this week, trading Iowa for a series of campaign stops in South Carolina, but polls show her campaign there mirrors her national narrative.
"She entered the race as an unknown. People got to know her quickly and perhaps superficially, but they really liked what they saw in the tea party," said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor and pollster at Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, S.C.
"Her numbers shot up quite significantly, but it wasn't lasting. It was sort of an ephemeral bump," Huffmon said. "As soon as folks did get to know her or as soon as another viable, non-Mitt Romney candidate jumped in, that support migrated away and she has struggled for numbers in South Carolina ever since."
This matters because South Carolina hosts the first Southern primary and the third nominating contest overall in late January, following Iowa and New Hampshire. And despite what the polls say, some Republican analysts say the Minnesota congresswoman could still do well in the Palmetto State.
At Clemson University, Republican consultant and political science professor Dave Woodard works on the latest Palmetto 2012 GOP presidential poll. Woodard's numbers are guaranteed to attract attention, even though he doesn't put much stock in the data.
"I don't believe any of these polls, OK? Yeah, I work on them, that's why I don't believe them," Woodard said.
Explaining, Woodard said it is resoundingly clear that South Carolinians are not settled on the field of candidates. He said even the majority of likely GOP primary voters who are now leaning toward a particular candidate could be expected to change their minds by primary time.
"I've been in the call center every night, and I can tell you that about three-quarters of the people that we call have told us that they've been following but they haven't made up their mind. We force them to a response," Woodard said. "We say, ' Well if it were held today and the candidates were, for which candidate would you vote?' and most of the time they say, 'Well I haven't made up my mind,' and we say, 'Well, which one are you leaning toward.' And then we finally get an answer, OK?"
Polls showed Bachmann's support plunged when Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race in mid-August. Perry's own numbers have since tumbled. Businessman Herman Cain appears to be favored now, but that could change as issues emerge over Cain's tax plan and alleged sexual harassment.
South Carolina Republican National Committeeman and York County GOP Chair Glenn McCall has not endorsed any of the candidates, but he is paying close attention and said he thinks the GOP nomination battle for that state is wide open.
Perry was considered a good fit for South Carolina, but McCall does not see his popularity playing out as many had expected.
"Folks that I talk to — and I'm not taking about the polls, just people I call everyday voters, grassroots folks — they are not sold on him totally and I think that will help Congresswoman Bachmann," McCall said. "She's very much in play in South Carolina."
The more time Bachmann spends campaigning in his state, McCall said, the better her primary prospects will be. South Carolina GOP insiders said Bachmann already has an impressive South Carolina team. As it continues to focus on Iowa, the Bachmann campaign said its South Carolina operation will grow between now and the primary in late January.
If Bachmann is to do well in South Carolina, she first must do well in the Iowa caucuses, Woodard said.
"If she comes out of there with some momentum, I think she could get quite a bit of attention down here. And she is a natural fit for the electorate, I mean seriously," Woodward said. "The GOP presidential primary electorate will be very sympathetic with every position she takes, and they probably won't be able to find as much fault with her as they can with other candidates."
Woodard said while Bachmann has ideology on her side, she has major hurdles to overcome in South Carolina. In a state that tends to tend to support male veterans, Bachmann is a woman with no military background and who is also relatively short on campaign money. However, South Carolinians in 2008 elected as governor. Nikki Haley, a Republican woman with grounding in the tea party movement.