Image: Michele Bachmann
Jae C. Hong  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., answers a question during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif.
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updated 9/9/2011 12:59:51 PM ET 2011-09-09T16:59:51

Republican Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign fell just as quickly as it rose. Now, she's looking to Iowa, at the expense of other early voting states, to get back on track.

It's a strategy of necessity for the Minnesota congresswoman. A victory in Iowa this winter would keep her afloat in the GOP nomination fight. A loss would almost certainly end her bid.

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"We know that when Michele is in Iowa, she wins," said Bachmann's Iowa campaign chairman, Kent Sorenson. "If she's here, she'll win Iowa."

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That explains why, starting this weekend, Bachmann plans to campaign almost exclusively in the state as she tries to reassert herself in a race that's become a two-candidate contest between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

When she jumped into the race this summer, she began hovering atop state and national public opinion polls. In August, she rode that wave of popularity to an Iowa straw poll victory. But that same day, Perry became a candidate. He quickly filled the role of the GOP field's insurgent outsider, stalled Bachmann's momentum and infringed on her base of support.

Video: Bachmann losing Tea Party support (on this page)

Since then, Bachmann has faced criticism from voters and activists for appearing too scripted. She's also shuffled her top campaign leadership. She found herself eclipsed in Wednesday's debate in California after figuring prominently in previous ones and winning praise for her poise.

Her new strategy calls for an intense focus on Iowa, where she has a strong organization and a natural base of support with evangelical Republicans, home-school advocates and tea partyers.

The hope among Bachmann advisers is that an Iowa victory could propel her to the South Carolina primary, where Republican voters resemble Iowa's heavy segment of Christian conservatives. She spent a chunk of the past month in the state, as well as in Florida, courting tea party activists and other conservatives.

Story: Michele Bachmann's campaign manager quits, says she's the 'third candidate'

But the renewed focus on Iowa means Bachmann is likely to bypass Nevada's under-the-radar caucuses and remain scarce in New Hampshire, where she has almost no organization in place for the first-in-the-nation primary.

She is making time for two upcoming debates in Florida, as well as a speech to the state GOP convention in California next week. Plus, she could be forced back to Washington on short notice for congressional votes.

Perry is organizing aggressively in Iowa, and aides to Romney, who is not campaigning heavily in the state, say he may step up his Iowa presence. That could complicate Bachmann's efforts in the state where she was born.

First Read: Simi Valley debate slugfest

Her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, said Monday he was stepping aside and moving into an advisory role. Rollins' deputy, David Polyansky, also quit.

Republican observers viewed the moves as a reaction to Bachmann's fade in polls.

Some Iowa Republicans recently criticized Bachmann for staying on her campaign bus during a county GOP dinner while Perry was speaking. The episode fed a budding narrative that Bachmann pays more attention to stagecraft than mingling with activists.

"Her campaign has to drop this rock-star motif," said Judd Saul, an undecided Iowa Republican who attended the event last month. "She won the straw poll but needs to dig in, shake our hands, get to know us."

Video: Romney vs. Perry for the nomination? (on this page)

Retired nurse Ellen Harward, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., Republican, was attracted to Bachmann after seeing her at a late June rally. But by this week, Harward had not decided whether she would back her in the first Southern contest.

"She's starting to sound like a broken record," Harward said. "If she could come out and show something that would set her apart from everyone else, it would make people start looking at her in a different way. It might give her some oomph her campaign needs."

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Video: Bachmann losing Tea Party support

  1. Closed captioning of: Bachmann losing Tea Party support

    >>> how big an influence is the tea party on the current crop of candidates? mitt romney seemed to be distancing himself last night.

    >> are you a member of the tea party ?

    >> i don't think you carry cards in the tea party . i believe in a lot of what the tea party believes in. if the tea party is for keeping government small, and spending down, and helping us create jobs, then hey, i'm for the tea party .

    >> mark meckler, co-founder of tea party patriots. thanks for being with us. you watched the debate. what did you think of the way the candidates handled the tea party , particularly mitt romney ?

    >> i thought it was fantastic. if you heard what he just said, i think he's dead-on. nobody is a card-carrying member of the tea party . you either agree with tea party principles or you don't. i thought it was fantastic. every single candidate on that stage was speaking tea party principles. that's exactly what we want to hear. that's exactly what the nation needs.

    >> one thing that was -- that really stood out was the way rick perry dealt with social security . there's been a lot of criticism of social security , but to call it a ponzi scheme and not suggest improving it, changing it, making it more secure, better funded, but to just talk about getting rid of it, do you support that?

    >> well, first of all, i was watching the debate and rick perry did not talk about getting rid of it. they tried to push him into saying that. he actually said it is a ponzi scheme . it is a ponzi scheme . in other words, the folks that are paying in today if we leave it the way it is, they have absolutely no chance of getting their money out. that is the very definition, open webster's, you'll see it, that's a ponzi scheme . de not say he wanted to get rid of it. none of the candidates said that.

    >> but he talked about it as a ponzi scheme and didn't talk about a way forward for social security . do you think that politically that is a good platform for republicans?

    >> well, again, it wasn't talking about getting rid of it. every republican agreed on that stage that it needed to be reformed and that if we don't reform it, and frankly, folks who are sticking their head in the sand are the ones who are going to destroy social security . seemed to me the republicans on that stage were unified around the concept we have to address the problems facing social security or it will continue to be a ponzi scheme and ultimately it will simply fail, leaving millions of americans without any hope in their later years.

    >> finally, do you think jon huntsman has a role to play here, or is it really now perry versus romney?

    >> you know, the polls might tell you one thing but as i watched the debate last night, i was hit by the fact that all of those candidates seemed very competent. they all seemed to understand the issues and deal with the issues facing the country seriously. if anything, i was really excited after that debate that there are some great people running in the republican primary .

    >> thank you so much, mark. thanks for being with us.

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