DES MOINES, Iowa — 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.
"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."
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.
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.
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. Bachmann, a frequent target of late-night TV humor, is squeezing in a "Tonight Show" appearance next Friday, her spokeswoman said.
The schedule could be complicated if she's forced back to Washington on short notice for congressional votes, particularly on a jobs package from President Barack Obama that she is already railing against.
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.
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."
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."
Bakst reported from St. Paul, Minn.