DES MOINES, IOWA—Michele Bachmann's presidential bid is doomed unless something dramatic happens in the next five days. Bachmann staked her campaign on a strong finish in the Iowa caucuses, which she hoped to win by gaining the support of the state's evangelical and Tea Party communities, but she hasn't been able to make a significant dent in the polls here since her mini-surge over the summer. It wouldn't be shocking to see her drop out of the field before New Hampshirites head to the polls on January 10.
The fate of her campaign has been apparent for weeks (if not months), but Bachmann has entered a downward spiral with the finish line now in sight. One of the candidate's two state co-chairmen, Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson, abruptly departed the campaign last night. Sorenson then surprised the audience at a Ron Paul rally in Des Moines by taking the stage to endorse the libertarian favorite. "I believe we're at a turning point in this campaign, I believe that we have an opportunity to elect a conservative, somebody that holds our values dear," Sorenson said. "When the Republican establishment is going to be coming against him the next few days, I thought it was my duty to come to his aid."
Sorenson is a favorite among grassroots conservatives in the state; he first entered elected office in 2008, defeating an incumbent state House member, and repeated that record in 2010 when he displaced Democrat Staci Appel—who happens to be married to one of the Iowa Supreme Court justices that joined the unanimous 2009 decision to legalize same-sex marriage—in the state Senate.
A small-business owner and parent of six homeschooled children, Sorenson is a standard Iowa evangelical leader who can't seem to resist some of the movement's more paranoid rhetoric. Taking cues from birther conspiracy theorists, Sorenson introduced a bill in March to require a public inspection of birth certificates for presidential candidates. He's also one of the most frequent proponents of rolling back marriage rights for Iowa's same-sex couples. He has turned to procedural gimmicks in attempts to force Democrats to vote on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, and supports impeaching the remaining Supreme Court justices who wrote the decision instituting marriage equality. “This is my generation’s defining moment," he told conservative religious group Focus on the Family's magazine, Citizen, about same-sex marriage. "This is what our kids are going to be reading about. It’s up to us to do what’s right.”
Despite his social conservative leanings, it's not entirely surprising that Sorenson endorsed Paul. Sorenson had worked with Campaign for Liberty—a group Paul founded to promote libertarian values—in the past, and his conservatism extends to fiscal issues; he once sponsored a bill to return Iowa's government to the gold standard. Paul also stopped by Iowa in late 2009 to help Sorenson raise funds for his Senate campaign.
His defection must have come as a real shock; he had been frequently visible at Bachmann's side during her visits to Iowa over the past year. Bachmann took a moment away from her nearly complete 99-county bus tour late yesterday to criticize Sorenson. "Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign," she told reporters. "Kent campaigned with us earlier this afternoon and went immediately afterward to a Ron Paul event and announced he is changing teams. Kent said to me yesterday that ‘everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn’t I,’ then he told me he would stay with our campaign. The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions."
Even if those allegations are true, losing Sorenson won't stop Bachmann's standing from further erosion. Paul no doubt is happy about the endorsement, but it's the evangelical base's reaction to Sorenson's defection that could shift the election outcome. After hovering near the bottom of the polls, one of the three evangelical favorites might finally be able to break apart from the others to compete with Paul and Mitt Romney once Bachmann's campaign loses its last legs. Shocking though it may seem, that new candidate could be the former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. A CNN poll released yesterday put support for Santorum on the rise, with the social conservative favorite at 16 percent—striking distance of third behind Paul and Romney.