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Bachmann's calculus

Iowa ground game vs. polls; snow votes

The last few days have not been kind to Michele Bachmann, but it's still too soon to count her out in Iowa.

Bachmann was once a favorite in the Hawkeye State, winning the Iowa Straw Poll and holding large events, but financial woes and a series of gaffes have changed all that. She placed fourth in a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday, and her former campaign manager Ed Rollins told ABC news yesterday that Bachmann is "out of money and ideas."

But the Iowa caucuses are fickle things, and a lot could change in the nine weeks between now and Jan. 3. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Yesterday was really bad for Herman Cain, who has rocketed to the top of the field in recent weeks. Cain placed first in the Iowa poll with 23 percent, just a point ahead of Mitt Romney, and second in the Texas poll, just a point behind Rick Perry. But that was before Politico reported Sunday night that the National Restaurant Association had settled two sexual harassment claims against Cain while he was the group's president.

The story sent the Cain campaign into what the Associated Press called "full-scale damage control." Cain confirmed yesterday that he had been accused of sexual harassment while at the association but insisted that those accusations were false.

2. Social networks are key- and we're not talking about Facebook. Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, wonders if Bachmann's money troubles could be a blessing in disguise.

"Her drop in fundraising forced her to go back to smaller groups and the face-to-face campaigning she's good at," he said. "She's pretty good with the pastor network and the home-school network."

Those groups, Hagle said, are loyal and likely to turn out on caucus night (see Reason 3 below.) In 2008, Mike Huckabee leveraged their support to win the Republican caucus after months of polling in the single digits.

3. The ground games matters in Iowa, perhaps more than anywhere else, and Romney and Cain may not have the infrastructure to turn out voters on caucus night. Cain has visited the state just once since the Iowa Straw Poll, and Romney has been similarly scarce.

"The candidates have to get people out to caucus locations," Hagle said. "It's a lot easier to just send in your vote whereas on caucus night you have to show up. . . . Without a ground game, are they going to turn out? What's the enthusiasm?"

Bachmann, meanwhile, has been building support at the grassroots level, announcing yesterday that she's recruited several dozen more neighborhood leaders in southeastern Iowa. In a campaign press release, Kent Sorenson, Bachmann's state chairman, said, "The caucuses are won precinct-by-precinct with neighbors talking to neighbors, friends talking to friends."

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