Bachmann Changes Strategy as Perry Surges in Polls

Thursday, 01 Sep 2011 06:27 PM

By Dan Weil and David A. Patten

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rocket-like ascent in the polls has left the rest of the GOP field gasping for political oxygen, with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann the latest to alter her campaign strategy accordingly.

On Thursday, Bachmann's super-PAC launched the first primary ad attacking a fellow Republican -- Perry.

The ad, which technically isn't controlled by the Bachmann campaign, stated that Perry "doubled spending in a decade" in Texas and is borrowing money for deficit spending. It's a direct attack on Perry's strongest flank -- his popularity with fiscally minded tea party conservatives.

The Perry campaign, in rapid-response style, countered the ad in a press release, claiming that both of the ads' assertions on Perry's record are false.

“Gov. Perry is a proven fiscal conservative, having cut taxes, signed six balanced budgets, and led Texas to become America’s top job-creating state,” Ray Sullivan, RickPerry.org’s communications director, said in the release. “Congresswoman Bachmann’s front-group ad is patently and provably false. Unlike Washington, the Texas budget is balanced, does not run deficits and limits spending, even as Texas added jobs and population in big numbers.”

Writing in the Washington Post Thursday, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said going after Perry on fiscal issues wasn't too wise a move.

Attacking Perry on "spending may not be the strongest gambit," Rubin wrote. "However, he is vulnerable on issues on which she can capi­tal­ize, most especially his stance on immigration and his reversals on gay marriage and mandatory HPV vaccination. The challenge for Perry is not only to dispel these concerns and reassure establishment Republicans, but to do so without appearing to be either overly defensive or a bully. It’s not an easy task.

Rubin went on to write that a "GOP veteran yesterday described Bachmann to me as an 'episodic politician.' She makes and creates big moments. She wowed the punditocracy in the debates. She released boffo ads in Iowa. She won them over in Ames. Now she needs to do it again in the debate and in the South Carolina forum on Monday. She has billed herself as the 'consistent conservative.'Well, that must mean the others are 'inconsistent' conservatives."

But if nothing else, Perry has shown consistency

Bachmann’s theoretical path to the presidency was always rather straight forward. She had to score big with Iowa’s social conservatives -- her narrow victory over Texas Rep. Ron Paul in the Ames straw poll was a big first step toward doing that -- and then ride her grass-roots momentum to a strong showing in subsequent GOP primaries.

Bachmann never figured to fare particularly well in “mavericky” New Hampshire, where voters rarely follow Iowa’s lead anyway -- the last GOP candidate to win both was Gerald Ford in 1976.

michelle bachmann faces rick perry's ascentSo given Perry’s rising strength in South Carolina, Team Bachmann appears to be focusing its resources there and in Florida and Iowa, while minimizing its investment in the Granite State.

Indeed, the Minnesota representative hasn’t visited the Granite State since her campaign began two months ago, Politico reports.

“Iowa is our main focus right now, secondly is South Carolina,” Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart told Politico. “We do plan to build on our efforts in New Hampshire in due time.”

Some New Hampshire Republicans are miffed by Bachmann’s absence. “People are baffled by the fact she hasn’t been here since before the [Iowa] Straw Poll,” said former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen. “Activists notice when she’s campaigning in Florida and making two trips to South Carolina, but isn’t scheduled to make any visits to New Hampshire.”

Bachmann’s campaign has changed in tone as well as strategy. Given Perry’s popularity with the Christian right, and mindful of the fact that up to 40 percent of the Florida GOP primary electorate are thought to be evangelicals and Catholics, Bachmann’s stump speeches of late have taken a decidedly religious tone.

At Bachmann’s key note speech to the Florida Family Policy Council on Saturday in Orlando, Fla., she talked about her personal conversion to Christianity.

“At that moment the Lord put inside my heart a hunger and a thirst for his word, a hunger and a thirst to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to know him,” she said.

Also this week, when Bachmann drew criticism for suggesting oil exploration in the Florida Everglades might be a good idea, she responded to critics: "Let's access this wonderful treasure trove of energy that God has given us in this country. Let's access it responsibl­y.”

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes remarked on Fox News Thursday that Bachmann apparently faces doubts regarding her electability that Perry does not.

Whether Bachmann’s more faith-filled campaign style can help her counteract Perry’s ascendance is an open question. But it stands as further evidence that Perry’s rapid emergence has shaken up the GOP field.

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