Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann contends that her prospects in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses are brighter than ever, despite having lost her Iowa campaign chairman and her political director to rival GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul.
As if the defections weren't enough, a new poll shows Bachmann ranking dead last among the Republican presidential hopefuls competing in Iowa. And it appears Rick Santorum, not Bachmann, is the third-tier candidate pushing toward the top of the bunch.
Bachmann's Iowa campaign chairman state Sen. Kent Sorenson endorsed Ron Paul onstage at a rally Wednesday evening in Des Moines, just hours after he had appeared with Bachmann at a different event.
"I just want to tell you guys that I'm going to do everything I can in the next few days to help in Iowa and beyond," Sorenson said. "And we're going to take Ron Paul all the way to the White House in 2012."
Almost immediately, the Bachmann campaign accused Sorenson of selling out. A brief statement said Sorenson told Bachmann the Paul campaign had offered him "a large sum of money to switch sides," but that he assured her he would not leave her campaign.
At a news conference Thursday outside a Des Moines radio station, Bachmann took a few questions about Sorenson's departure before aides cut her off and ushered her on to her campaign bus.
"Our campaign is strong," Bachmann said.
Polls show Paul at or near the top in Iowa and Bachmann at or near the bottom. Bachmann insists Paul recruited Sorenson in the hope of slowing down her momentum. Bachmann said thousands of Ron Paul supporters are now backing her out of concern over Paul's approach to national security, specifically his unwillingness to confront Iran on its plans to build nuclear weapons.
Bachmann said the Paul campaign lured away Sorenson with a pile of money, plain and simple.
"I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson and in the direct conversation that I had with him, he told me that he was offered money, he was offered a lot of money by Ron Paul campaign to go and associate with the Ron Paul campaign," Bachmann said. "No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself, and I know what he said about that."
Bachmann said the conversation took place via telephone on Tuesday. She did not say how much money Sorenson was offered.
Sorenson did not return calls but the Paul campaign distributed a statement by him late Thursday afternoon denying that he was offered or took any money from the campaign. Sorenson said he was saddened by the way Bachmann's campaign reacted.
Bachmann' political director in Iowa, Wes Enos, issued a statement Thursday morning on Ron Paul Campaign stationary stating that Sorenson's decision was, "in no way financially motivated."
The Bachmann campaign said later in the day that Enos too no longer works for the campaign.
The situation is not good news for Bachmann's campaign, Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said.
"I don't know anything with regard to the validity to the claims about money but certainly from Congresswoman Bachmann's standpoint, this is not something you want to have to deal with in the closing five days of the caucus," he said.
If there's anything positive for Bachmann in the story, Goldford said, it is that she's at least getting her name in the news at a time when most news media attention is on the candidates with more support in the polls.
As Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry battle for the support of social conservatives and evangelical Christians, there is concern in that wing of Iowa's Republican party that the votes could be split among candidates so much that a socially moderate candidate could win next week.
Some religious and political leaders have encouraged Bachmann, Perry and Santorum to form an alliance, and create conservative "dream ticket." Warren County GOP chairman Rick Halverson is among them.
"I asked Michele today, 'You and one or two of the other candidates need to team up and get in the same car and drive it all the way to the White House, I don't care who's in the front seat or who's in the back seat, but you're splitting the good conservative vote too many ways here, and I'm afraid that's going to put somebody like Mitt Romney in the White House,' " Halverson said.
But so far Bachmann, Perry and Santorum have expressed no interest in an alliance and continue to actively campaign against each other.