DES MOINES, Iowa — In a surprise move, and a blunt reflection of the shifting fortunes of Republican presidential candidates ahead of the opening voter test, Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman defected Wednesday night to Ron Paul’s campaign.
State Sen. Kent Sorenson, a “tea party” favorite, was hired as a Bachmann staffer in Iowa, even before she announced her candidacy. He helped lead her campaign to victory in the Ames Straw Poll in August. Ever since, however, Bachmann’s popularity has been in decline.
Recent statewide polling shows her running last among the six Republicans actively competing in Iowa. Paul, meantime, is in a tight race with Mitt Romney for first place in next Tuesday’s caucuses, the opening vote of the 2012 Republican nomination contest.
“It’s difficult, but it’s the right thing to do,” Sorenson said, in announcing his decision before a crowd of several hundred at a Veterans for Ron Paul rally at the Iowa state fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Sorenson predicted that Paul would be the object of attacks by the Republican establishment in the days ahead, and said he wanted to help defend him here in Iowa.
Paul welcomed his newest supporter in understated fashion, thanking Sorenson for “stopping by. That was very nice.”
The defection of the well-known Republican lawmaker is a severe blow to Bachmann’s struggling campaign.
In a statement released by the Paul campaign, Sorenson said he retains “an immense amount of respect for Michele. The reasons are many. She’s never betrayed conservatives on issues like taxes, the right to life, and the Second Amendment. So over the past few months, I have been saddened at the dismissive way she’s been treated among some conservatives especially after winning the Iowa Straw Poll.”
But he said that there is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both in Iowa and nationally. He added that Paul “is easily the most conservative of this group.”
In a statement, Bachmann responded that Sorenson’s defection was “a deliberate move by the Ron Paul campaign to discredit our campaign and growing momentum.”
Bachmann went on to say that Sorenson “personally told me he was offered a large sum of money” to work for Paul.
Sorenson, speaking to several reporters backstage after the Paul rally ended and the candidate was posing for pictures with supporters, said he had “no idea” why Bachmann claims that he said he was offered a large sum of money to work for Paul. He also denied that he told her: “Everyone in Iowa sells out. Why shouldn’t I?”
The state senator, who attended a Bachmann event in his district earlier in the day, said he had only exchanged pleasantries with her Wednesday. He had been in talks with her campaign the day before, he said, about his decision to leave. But, he said, he didn’t make up his mind until 10 minutes before he made the stunning announcement onstage at the Paul rally Wednesday night.
Sorenson said Bachmann is no longer a top-tier candidate in Iowa and doesn’t have a chance to stop Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s caucuses. Paul, he said, was the only conservative with that opportunity. “It was hard for me to do this,” he said. “I love Michele Bachmann.”
Sorenson was confronted with the Bachmann campaign statement about his departure as he was speaking with a reporter. He smiled as the statement was read, then trashed it.
At his rally in Des Moines Wednesday evening, Paul gave an upbeat assessment of his chances in Iowa.
“I’m encouraged. I’m encouraged about next week,” the Texas congressman said.
“There is a large number of people, and I think they’re coming out of the woodwork. Maybe we see a chance of a real change and it’s galvanizing,” he said.
But, Paul added, “I don’t for a minute think it’s going to be easy.”