Michele Bachmann may have peaked too early. After winning the Ames Straw Poll, the Minnesota congresswoman has fallen off the radar and into the lower tier of candidates, alongside Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman. Could she still nab the nomination? It seems like a longer shot than ever, but here are three reasons for Bachmann's supporters to stay positive:
1. Look at Mike Huckabee.
There are several reasons to compare Bachmann to the former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican candidate: a heavy campaign focus on Iowa, social conservatism, outspoken Christian views, and Ed Rollins—Bachmann's campaign manager until he stepped down earlier this month—also helmed the Huckabee campaign. But money may be another point on which the two are similar. Some insiders say Bachmann will turn in underwhelming third-quarter fundraising totals. However, she is maintaining her focus on Iowa, where big money is not necessary for a caucus win. Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus in 2008, besting Mitt Romney by 9 percentage points, despite having been less aggressive with his spending than Romney. Romney outspent Huckabee four times over on ads at the two top-rated Des Moines TV stations, according to Hugh Winebrenner and Dennis J. Goldford's 2010 edition of their book The Iowa Precinct Caucuses. So even if Bachmann raises significantly less money than front-runners Romney and Perry, it may not negatively affect her performance in Iowa.
2. Her focus is on the early states.
Bachmann is in the basement in national polls, but she is still very strong in Iowa. A poll by the American Research Group conducted September 22 through 27 shows Bachmann with the support of 15 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers, second only to Mitt Romney's 21 percent and in a statistical tie with Rick Perry, who garnered 14 percent support. Early primary and caucus wins can give a candidates a boost in subsequent contests, and in a video released this week, campaign manager Keith Nahigian stressed that Bachmann's "path to victory" involves a heavy focus on early states: "If she wins in Iowa, does well in New Hampshire, and wins South Carolina, she basically is on a very good path to win the nomination." Her repeat visits to Iowa and South Carolina in particular could help cement her strength there.
3. Rick Perry is faltering.
The Texas governor has now turned in several uninspiring debate performances, and his once-commanding lead in polls is waning. Perry's entrance into the race stole thunder from Bachmann's Ames Straw Poll win and may have subsequently contributed to her declining poll numbers. Potential voters defecting from Perry could come back to Bachmann.
Of course, it is clear that the campaign has lost steam since July. There is a flipside to all of those reasons to be optimistic:
1. Mike Who?
The Iowa caucuses can of course boost candidates' standings, but that was not the case with Mike Huckabee, who ended his campaign two months after the 2008 caucus. Putting most of her eggs in the Iowa basket may thus very well not garner Bachmann the GOP nod (on the plus side, she could always go on to host her own FOX News show).
2. Is this what a "path to victory" looks like?
The Bachmann campaign has acknowledged its recent trials, with the candidate dubbing herself "the comeback kid." But some of the campaign's spin on its strategy rings false. In the campaign's "path to victory" video, Nahigian emphasizes that the candidate is exactly where she wants to be: "We are on the exact path that we have designed and the exact path to victory." Though the early-state emphasis has clearly been a major theme throughout Bachmann's campaign, it is doubtful that single-digit polling was originally foreseen as a part of that path.
3. Perry's loss is not necessarily Bachmann's gain.
According to a Fox News poll, Perry support among Republican primary voters has slipped from 29 percent in late August to 19 percent this week. During that same period, Bachmann has dropped from 8 percent to 3 percent. It would appear instead that Perry's defectors have gone to other candidates, including Herman Cain (who gained 11 percentage points), Newt Gingrich (8 points), and Jon Huntsman (3 points).