Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann sent out a desperate E-mail to supporters Thursday. The note included an audio message alerting voters that she "is fighting with every scrap of energy [she] has left in her to win this election."
What a difference a year makes.
Last October, Bachmann looked like a potential GOP presidential nominee. Now she's waging a war in her home state of Minnesota to hold onto her house seat and keep pace with her opponent's fundraising.
Bachmann's Democratic opponent Jim Graves has self financed roughly $500,000 of his campaign and has leveraged Bachmann's Tea Party support against her. A recent Minneapolis Star Tribune poll shows three-term Bachmann up just six points, 51 percent to 45 percent.
Bachmann's still got time to cement support among the base in her conservative district. The campaigns scheduled three debates for the final week before election day. But Bachmann's not a shoe-in, and experts say her national brand could be part of the reason why.
"Constituents don't want their member to be controversial. They want their members to do their work," says Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University. "Bachmann's Tea Party reputation is visible, and it's easy to demonize in politics."
Bachmann's not the only well known Tea Party house member struggling for re-election.
It's possible that Bachmann, along with outspoken conservative Iowa Rep. Steve King, and Florida Rep. Allen West all could lose their seats come November.
But without the Tea Party favorites, what would happen to the movement?
"It may become less visible, but more effective," Brown says.
Brown argues that the Tea Party began as a Libertarian, Jeffersonian crusade to cut the size of government; but over time it evolved into a more social conservative movement.
"Without someone like Bachmann, it's possible the Tea Party might go back to appealing to those Libertarian constituents," Brown argues.
In Iowa's rural 4th District, King's opposition Democrat Christie Vilsack has put together a competitive, star powered campaign. The polls are neck-and-neck. And because of both candidates' national name recognition, the campaigns have attracted a lot of attention. With the help of big-name outside groups, Vilsack and King have each rased $2.7 million and $3.1 million respectively.
King, who is in his 5th term, is an outspoken social conservative who has gained popularity in rural Iowa for standing up against the Obama Administration.
"Most people in Iowa either love King or hate him," says Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. "This is a new, larger and more urban district than his old one, and the speculation is that his Tea Party reputation could hurt him."
Vilsack, on the other hand, was a popular first lady in the state whose husband is now the secretary of agriculture for the Obama administration. Former president Bill Clinton has stumped for her, and Obama's campaign strategist David Axelrod is among her major donors.
"There is no doubt both candidates have to do a balancing act to win." Larimer says.
In Florida, Republican and Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West is also fighting for his seat in a newly drawn district. A Sunshine State News poll out last week showed freshman West holding a one point lead over Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.
The race has been another barn burner with West spending well over $11 million and Murphy doling out $2.8 million.
"This is a dramatically split district," says Kyle Kondik, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "I don't think Patrick Murphy is a top flight candidate, and I think West is doing what he needs to win. But I would say this race is tight."