Bachmann Changes GOP Staff, Not Strategy

Campaign downplays shakeup as top advisers step down and poll numbers slip.

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After a busy and bumpy weekend, Michele Bachmann's campaign is looking the worse for wear. The congresswoman spent the weekend campaigning in South Carolina, doing a Sunday-morning segment on CBS's Face the Nation, and on Monday night participating in Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's Republican presidential candidate forum. But the campaign arguably grabbed the most attention on Monday night, when it announced that Ed Rollins would step down as campaign manager to the role of senior adviser. Politico reported that Deputy Campaign Manager David Polyansky would be leaving as well. The chairman of Bachmann's Iowa campaign says that he foresees no major strategy changes, but can the Minnesota representative win by simply staying the course?

[Read about the fallout surrounding Bachmann's Hurricane Irene comments.]

The campaign's statement characterizes the shift as a "planned restructuring," with the 68-year-old Rollins leaving for health reasons. Rollins is a veteran of helming Republican campaigns, having worked as campaign director for President Ronald Reagan as well as for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in his 2008 run for the presidency. The campaign is clearly downplaying the significance of the shift. Kent Sorenson, Bachmann's campaign chairman in Iowa, says that Rollins was always intended to be focused mainly on the Ames Straw Poll, which Bachmann won last month. And though the campaign says that it is "expanding its focus on winning the Iowa Caucuses and early primary states," Sorenson says that the campaign's overall approach is remaining unchanged.

"I don't see any major strategy changes," says Sorenson, pointing out that the campaign has always been primarily focused on winning states like Iowa and South Carolina, which have early nomination contests.

"I was always under the impression that [Rollins] was never going to run the day-to-day operations," says Sorenson. "He's still a part of the campaign. I can call him any time. [But] this is a young man's sport."

Whether or not the staff shakeup was unexpected, there is no doubt that Bachmann's strength is slipping. Rollins even went to far as to tell CNN on Monday, "The Perry-Romney race is now the story, with us the third candidate." That fact was borne out by an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released this morning, showing that the candidate garners only 8 percent of support among Republican primary voters, behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 38 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 23 percent, and nearly even with Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 9 percent. This is half the amount of support that Bachmann had in the same poll in July.

[See how Perry's candidacy might hurt Bachmann's chances.]

With these signs of stress, it appears to be all the more important that Bachmann perform well in Wednesday night's Republican debate. Many watchers perceived her performance in a June debate as strong. If she can build on that, it may help her regain some of the ground she has lost.

Bachmann may also be able to boost her place in the national spotlight with Congress' return from its August recess. Unlike Perry and Romney, Bachmann (and likewise Paul) has the advantage of being a member of Congress at a time when contentious policy debates are taking place, giving her the opportunity to further advance her campaign's narrative of the congresswoman as being at the forefront of the conservative movement to fight President Obama's policies.

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