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Michele Bachmann is grappling with a new, unpleasant reality: she might lose. Despite an impressive debate performance in June and her victory at the Ames straw poll in August, her popularity has sharply dropped. She's averaging 7.5 percent in national polls, putting her in fifth place. The most recent CNN poll gave her 4 percent of the vote. In Iowa, a must-win state where she spent a big portion of her summer, she's averaging 18.5 percent, for second place. Her fundraising is reportedly in trouble, and she just emailed donors with a request for an "emergency contribution," Business Insider's Grace Wyler reports. Tuesday, a week after Bachmann's old campaign manager said she didn't have the resources to compete outside of Iowa, her new campaign released a PowerPoint-style video explaining Bachmann's "path to victory" -- and that the campaign will "run our own race at our own pace." Despite those embers of optimism, it's starting to be time that Bachmann has to confront the possibility that she might lose. And if she does, will she lose gracefully?

Not yet. When asked about her low poll numbers, Bachmann has indulged in a tiny bit of schadenfreude by referring to frontrunner Rick Perry's recent struggles. She told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Monday night:

I won the Iowa straw poll. We had a wonderful response with that, and then of course Governor Perry came into the race and there was an assumption that he was going to walk away with the nomination. Now there is a relook at that. People are looking after the debate and they are saying that they think now they need to look for their champion...

She was a bit more subtle with Des Moines' KCCI:

Well, we were thrilled with the results of the Ames Straw Poll. But in that time, I think we have seen a major candidate come into the race, and in that time we've also seen the layers come back off of that candidate. And so now I think what is happening is people are re-evaluating and people are taking a second look at candidates.

That's true. But the second-looking is not always going in Bachmann's favor. She was crushed by Herman Cain in last weekend's Florida straw poll. Bachmann's new message is that she's the only real conservative in the race, telling KCCI:
We are always told as conservatives that we have to go with the moderate because only a moderate can win. That isn't true. I think we are about to see a second rebirth politically, you might say, and a new bounce and we are looking forward to that.
If that's how Bachmann sees herself, she won't be the first Republican primary candidate to believe she's the only pure-hearted crusader for principle. But the candidate crusaders who've come before her did not set very good examples for how to lose with grace. They didn't help themselves, or their issues, all that much.
  • In 1996, after he lost 29 straight primaries, Pat Buchanan refused to exit the race. "Pat made a commitment to everyone who supported his campaign that he would go all the way with his message and their cause," an aide told the Baltimore Sun at the time. He began making demands -- speaking time at the Republican National Convention, the chance to talk about his pet issues during the platform debate, a say in the vice-presidential nomination. The eventual Republican nominee, Bob Dole, thought that was pretty funny: "To let him tell us what we should do -- it's not going to happen."
  • In July 1999, Sen. Bob Smith went on Larry King Live to announce he was quitting the Republican Party. He then belittled the Republican platform as "a meaningless document" and the primaries "a charade," the Washington Times reported. He was briefly a candidate for the U.S. Taxpayers Party before finally endorsing Bush in November. He recanted all those mean things he said about the Republican Party once a sweet chairmanship opened up.
  • Over the years, John McCain earned a solid reputation as a sore loser. In 1999, the Washington City Paper noted that he'd even "once shoved nonagenarian Strom Thurmond on the Senate floor." He did not take well to losing in 2000, when his campaign crusaded for campaign finance reform. After losing several primaries, McCain "suspended" his campaign, rather than endorsing George W. Bush, as Bill Bradley had done for Al Gore. The Spectator wrote that, "Without McCain's endorsement, Bush may be unable to win enough of McCain's Democratic and independent backers to put him over the top in November." Once he went back to the Senate, The New York TimesGail Collins wondered how brutal his reception might be, and that Bush was annoyed enough by McCain to be a sore winner. "He told The New York Times that he regrets nothing, has changed his mind about nothing, and plans to do nothing in response to all those weeks of listening to Mr. McCain talk about reform. He did, however, genially give his former opponent credit for having 'forced me to play to my strength better.'"

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