DES MOINES – Even before the final numbers were in Tuesday night, there were plenty of people ready to declare defeat for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in the Iowa Republican caucuses.
“Odds are, she will do quite poorly tonight,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia said in an e-mail just hours before more than 100,000 Iowans took part in the GOP caucuses.
He was right. From the lofty heights of victory in last year’s Ames Straw Poll, Bachmann slid to a sixth-place, 5-percent finish in caucus voting.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were deadlocked at 25 percent apiece atop the field in unofficial results from the first presidential nominating contest of 2012. Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in third with 21 percent, with nearly all the precincts reporting.
After that came former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich (13 percent) Texas Gov. Rick Perry (10 percent), then Bachmann.
Sabato said earlier Tuesday that Bachmann’s victory in Ames proves just how worthless straw polls are.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, agreed: “I don’t see any scenario where she does well tonight.”
Not far from Bachmann’s Iowa headquarters, more than 400 registered voters packed the gym at Des Moines Christian School in Urbandale, where they heard a representative from each candidate speak. Among the representatives were Tagg Romney, the oldest son of Mitt Romney, and Jimmy Cushman, Newt Gingrich’s son-in law.
It was a far bigger turnout than four years ago, when about 250 Republicans participated.
As expected, Bachmann struggled to garner support. At the Urbandale site she received just 16 votes, placing last behind Rick Perry, who had 35. Romney won with 190.
Earlier in the day, Bachmann told reporters she would continue on the campaign trail even if she had a poor showing in Iowa.
“We’ve bought our tickets to South Carolina, and we’ll be off tomorrow morning,” Bachmann said after speaking to over 800 juniors and seniors, who were eligible to participate for the first time in Tuesday night’s caucuses.
Yepsen said Bachmann bigger concern should be maintaining her seat in the U.S. House.
“She’s shown some real weakness here, and this is going to energize her opponents,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday.
“People who run for president often times have trouble getting reelected because voters back home see them in a different light.”
Sabato agreed, pointing out that Minnesota observers could be thinking she should attend to her congressional district.
“Redistricting is in process and could rapidly change the nature of the district. Bachmann is not 100 percent secure there.”
During public appearances, Bachmann often has compared herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
“They want someone who will come in the footsteps of a Ronald Reagan or a Margaret Thatcher,” she said. “I am the best candidate to follow in their image, and that’s what I intend to do.”
When asked about Bachmann’s rhetoric, Tagg Romney declined to comment, saying he only wanted to talk about his father.
Gingrich’s son-in law, Cushman, didn’t agree with the assessment.
“That probably wouldn’t have been my first choice of a comparison but again, she is a good strong person but I’m not sure I would have made that comparison.”
Romney wouldn’t speculate on whether his father would give one of the remaining GOP hopefuls a look at serving as vice president or in his cabinet if he won the nominee and ultimately beat Barack Obama in November.
“We’re way too far away to be thinking about those types of things, so we’re going to try to win the race first and then figure [out] those types of things later,” he said.
Bachmann, however, may not be a likely choice.
“I don’t see her as a likely Cabinet pick,” Sabato said. “Too controversial.”