Michele Bachmann's Tough Fall

With her campaign for the GOP presidential nomination stalled, the Minnesota congresswoman shakes ups her staff. But can it work?

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Updated 9/7/11-- Who "executes a planned restructuring strategy" that involves the departure of your top two strategists at a crucial moment in a stalled campaign? That would be Michele Bachmann, who is losing campaign manager Ed Rollins and his deputy just as she is grappling with the Rick Perry effect and a new, more substantive phase of the nomination race.

Rollins did Bachmann no favors when he told CNN on Monday night that "legitimately it's a (Mitt) Romney-Perry race" because they are leading in polls and leading in money, even though he added that Perry remains untested and Bachmann is doing much better than anyone thought she would. He also offered a candid assessment of the damage Perry has done to Bachmann: "We're sort of going after the same voter base and I think to a certain extent it slowed our money down. It took a lot of the momentum that we would have gotten out of the straw poll victory. To win the straw poll after eight weeks being in the race is unheard of and normally that would have given you a gigantic boost."

Perry has not just robbed Bachmann of money and momentum, he's caused her to backslide. Between June and August, Bachmann fell from 11 percent to 4 percent in the Fox News poll. She fell 3 to 8 percentage points from July to August in polls conducted by or for NBC-Wall Street Journal, Quinnipiac, CNN, Public Policy Polling and Gallup.

Rollins cast early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as testing grounds for Perry. "He has to win somewhere," Rollins said. But in reality, those states look far more difficult for Bachmann than for Perry. He's leading in the three most recent polls of Iowa while she has dropped up to 7 points in the past month. She's running third in South Carolina, where Perry has double-digit leads over both her and Romney. And in the only New Hampshire poll since Perry became a candidate, Romney is a distant first, followed by Perry. Bachmann is fourth, behind Ron Paul.

What can Bachmann do to shake things up? She made news in the first candidate debate by announcing her intention to run for president, and by performing above expectations. She'll have plenty of opportunities to reassert her claim on the tea party crown and spark some drama -- maybe even take Perry down a peg or two -- in the string of debates this fall.

More fundamentally, Bachmann is going to need to show depth. The devastating August jobs report is putting a burden on all candidates, including President Obama, to demonstrate they have ideas to make things better. Jon Huntsman released a detailed plan last week. Romney's is out and Obama's is due Thursday. Perry can rely on his record of job creation in Texas for a while, but both he and Bachmann will have to put their proposals on the table before long.

Interestingly, a questioner at Jim DeMint's Labor Day candidate forum on the Constitution took a detour to the issue of the day and asked Bachmann to describe her jobs program. She said the country could get a $1.2 trillion capital infusion if U.S. corporations could bring home overseas profits at a zero percent tax rate. She also talked about lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and blocking regulations in the new health law. "We need private directed solutions and we also need permanent solutions rather than temporary government gimmicks," she said.

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Jill Lawrence is a national correspondent at National Journal. She was previously a columnist at Politics Daily, national political correspondent at USA Today and national political writer at the Associated Press.

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