WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — If Michele Bachmann’s campaign is running on fumes, as the polls seem to suggest, you’d never know it from the crowd of supporters and journalists that filled four shops in West Des Moines Monday afternoon to catch a glimpse of her.
“Tuesday night is the night when we make Barack Obama a one-term president,” the three-term Minnesota congresswoman said as she clawed her way through Paula’s, a Maid Rite sandwich shop.
She began running a television ad, which an adviser told the Associated Press was airing on a limited basis across the state, highlighting the fact that she was born in Waterloo, northeast of Des Moines.
She also initiated her toughest attacks yet on former Sen. Rick Santorum, the candidate with the most momentum here, pointing out his support for the Bridge to Nowhere, the Alaska project that became a symbol of pork-barrel spending.
Mrs. Bachmann has spent the second-most time in Iowa of any of the candidates and just finished a tour of all 99 counties, putting 6,900 miles on her campaign bus as she crisscrossed the state over the final two weeks of December.
For a time this summer, Iowa looked like Mrs. Bachmann’s to lose. She led in polling from mid-July through Labor Day - a period that saw her score a victory in the Iowa Republican Party’s influential straw poll in August.
But since then, she’s fallen off a cliff, according to the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls, which showed a series of conservative candidates succeed her atop the polls. She now polls at an average of 6.8 percent.
Her campaign may have hit its low point late last week, when one of her state co-chairmen withdrew his support and endorsed Rep. Ron Paul. Mrs. Bachmann accused him of taking a payoff to make the switch, but he denied that charge.
Her opponents, seeking to unify a fragmented conservative base, question whether she has the resources to compete anywhere else, but Mrs. Bachmann said Monday she’s continuing her campaign.
“We’ve already bought and paid for our tickets to South Carolina,” she said.
That means bypassing New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 10 to begin competing in South Carolina, which holds a primary on Jan. 21. But Mrs. Bachmann said she will go to New Hampshire this weekend to take part in debates.
Her strategy in Iowa relies on evangelical voters turning out in huge numbers and on her winning an overwhelming portion of those voters. She points to a network of pastors she has put together as a key to that strategy.
She also said her bus tour won her new supporters, and she predicted that enthusiasm will produce a surprisingly good showing Tuesday.
“We saw people, literally thousands of people, make their decision on the spot,” she said.
She drew a strong turnout for her walking tour of West Des Moines on Monday, greeting young supporters with hugs and snapping photos.
“Go Facebook that picture. Tell everybody you know,” she told one man.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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