When Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann finished dead last in the Florida straw poll Saturday, more than one onlooker wondered how many nails were left to seal her coffin. The poll, in a state that elected a tea party governor in 2010, seemed to be a devastating blow to the popular conservative.
Instead of warming to Bachmann, Sunshine State straw poll delegates split their vote for an alternative to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain.
The big question now is how much air is left in Bachmann’s sails. Did she peak at the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll in Iowa? Opinions are split, but most experts seem to agree that while she’s clearly in trouble, it’s too early to start the Bachmann campaign death clock.
“Michele Bachmann’s last-place finish was obviously not ideal,” media consultant Vincent Harris told The Daily Caller. “Florida is a critical state and one in which every candidate will need to actively participate.”
“But just as people wrote off Herman Cain after Bachmann’s Iowa straw poll victory, it’s far too soon to write her political obituary,” Harris added.
Opinion polls are beginning to suggest otherwise. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday had Bachmann at only four percent, behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Cain, Texas congressman Ron Paul, Perry, Romney and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. (RELATED: Romney catching up to Perry after Florida debate)
Perry’s late entry into the race, combined with negative press about his low fundraising and unflattering comments about his HPV controversy, haven’t boosted Bachmann’s numbers. And Perry and Cain may be taking over the anti-establishment vacuum Bachmann originally filled.
If there’s any bright side for the congresswoman, though, it’s that expectations for her were low in Florida.
That, along with the first rule of politics — that what goes up must come down — suggests it’s not yet over for Bachmann.
Florida-based consultant Tim Baker, for one, hasn’t written her off.
“I don’t know if it’s a matter of Floridians not being attracted to her as much as not knowing much about her,” he told TheDC. “She made clear that her strategy is Iowa-focused and also made a big show of not ‘contesting’ the [Florida straw] poll.”
“I think the results from this weekend made clear that you have to invest your time in Florida and offer specific solutions to the problems we are facing,” said Baker.
One Florida GOP insider, however, indicated to TheDC that there’s nowhere for Bachmann’s candidacy to go after Florida. With Paul to the right of her and Perry to the more mainstream conservative side, Bachmann is simply stuck with a disintegrating grassroots base.
“Until she takes care of Rick Perry or something else takes care of him, I don’t see her being a viable candidate,” said the Florida insider. “She won the [Iowa] straw poll, then two hours later Rick Perry got in and she was done.”
Some political gurus, as well as the Bachmann campaign itself, point to an Iowa-only strategy to downplay results in other early-primary states.
“We made the decision weeks ago to not to participate in the Florida P5 [Presidency 5] poll,” said Bachmann press secretary Alice Stewart. “We came into the race late and had to make a decision about what poll to participate in and we chose Iowa. We competed in Iowa with less time and resources and time than others, and we won.”
“Not only that, the Iowa straw poll was open to all Iowans with a valid ID, as opposed to a select group of delegates as in the P5 poll,” Stewart added. “Our plan is to continue doing retail politics — which is something Michele does better than any other candidate in this race.”
Harris agreed, telling TheDC that the Minnesota congresswoman “shares a similar appeal as Governor Huckabee in her appeal of evangelical Christians, and if she can tap into that audience [she] will be very successful both in Iowa and South Carolina. Bottom line is anything can happen.”
The Florida GOP insider, however, doesn’t buy it. “It’s hard to run a grassroots campaign with no grassroots. If she’s putting it all in Iowa we’ll see, but unless something starts changing I just don’t see it.”
Her campaign’s stamina will be put to the test later this week with the third-quarter financials deadline. So far, Bachmann has been relying heavily on small donors and direct mail, while Wall Street funders and bundlers have yet to sign on. Regardless, when Bachmann’s financials come out, the only thing that will really matter is whether her bottom line is in the black or in the red.