Faithful Iowa Supporters Mourn as Bachmann Pulls the Plug on Campaign
Unofficial cause of campaign's death: gaffes, staff churn and a fickle evangelical base that turned to someone else.
Michelle Bachman for President
June 13, 2011 - January 4, 2012
Michele Bachmann’s downward spiral began almost the moment her campaign reached its zenith, with August’s victory in the Ames Straw Poll, a peculiarity of Iowa political pageantry that’s more Republican fundraiser than predictor of presidential preference.
Her ascension to frontrunner status was fleeting, as a fickle Iowa electorate picked one, then another, favorite before finally settling Tuesday on Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, separated by only eight votes, in the state’s celebrated presidential caucuses.
But among the true believers in Bachmann’s campaign — Iowans for whom God doesn’t come before country, but is inextricably tied to it — hers was a holy cause, a crusade. For them, supporting Bachmann was quite literally a religious experience, part and parcel of their own.
“She stands with evangelical Christians, she stands against gun control, and she stands against abortion,” Arthur Arnett of Des Moines said Tuesday night as he waited in a half-empty hotel banquet room for the Minnesota congresswoman to address the faithful.
“She stands where I stand.”
Death came painfully to the campaign shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. After a night of prayer with family and friends surrounding her as she faced a bay of cameras and busily Tweeting reporters, Bachmann pulled the plug on her presidential candidacy, saying that she would “stand aside.”
Weaving references to God and her Christian faith through her remarks, she delivered the news that on the evening before, many had refused to believe.
Dogged in their devotion, Bachmann’s supporters had clung to hope that, in spite of the fact that not one among Iowa’s 99 counties favored their candidate, the campaign could recuperate in South Carolina.
Bachmann’s Iowa chairman, state Sen. Brad Zaun, even introduced her Tuesday evening to a sparsely populated ballroom at the Marriott in West Des Moines, as “the next president of the United States.”
Half of the people in the room, the folks with digital recorders in their hands and cameras around their necks or fixed on leggy tripods, knew the campaign was drawing its last breath. Seasoned veterans of the campaign trail, they understood it, grasped it and pressed Bachmann’s supporters to confront it: The campaign was on life support.
“It’s still early,” said Alana Krzyzac of Grimes. “This is just one state.”
“I don’t think she should give up,” said her friend, Kassie Fisher of Urbandale.
“She’s saying she will stay in,” said Ron Saur of Grimes, who committed to Bachmann because “she stands up for herself and is not afraid to speak her own words.”
“She’s got to stay in,” said Mike Kiedrowski, a Minnesota constituent who made the drive to Iowa to stand with the congresswoman in victory — or, as cruel fate would have it — or at the death knell of defeat.
“It’s a long marathon,” he said.
But in the end, the campaign succumbed to a series of gaffes (while extolling the benefits of growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, she flubbed when she credited John Wayne with being one of its most notorious native sons, when in fact it was serial killer John Wayne Gacy); churn within her Iowa and national staff; and the last-minute surge by Santorum, around whose candidacy the religious conservatives Bachmann had been courting coalesced.
“The faith community did coalesce around one person,” said Bachmann’s national communications director, Alice Stewart, while speaking with reporters after her boss pulled the campaign plug.
Stewart said the decision was agonizing for Bachmann. “She has a lot of emotion to deal with.”
Iowa Campaign Manager Eric Woolson remembered the campaign as being led by a remarkable, caring individual – qualities he observed as she interacted not only with her five biological and 23 foster chlldren, but also her staff.
“It’s one thing to tell your kids ‘I love you,’ but another to see them interact with her,” Woolson said. “I was really taken by how extraordinarily caring she is toward those people around her. She goes the extra mile for other people around her.”
That’s a quality Woolson said doesn’t come naturally to many people, and especially political candidates.
“Even among people who are very tuned into their emotional quotient, this is very special,” he said. “I’ve been around my share of candidates, in victory and defeat. She is a class act.”