TheIowaRepublican.com caught up with Michele Bachmann on Saturday as she traveled across the state on a three-day bus tour. The tour is the most extensive trip Bachmann has made in the state.
The circuit began in Iowa City, before heading to Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, and Des Moines on Saturday. Bachmann attended two church services at the Point of Grace Church in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee before heading out for stops in Carroll and Le Mars. On Sunday night, Bachmann visited Cornerstone World Outreach Center in Sioux City with Pastor Cary Gordon. Pastor Gordon was heavily involved in the anti-retention campaign last year.
Typically, candidates launch bus tours to do a series of events that help them sign up and activate supporters. Bachmann’s tour seems to be a continuation of her announcement instead of an effort to solidify support for her candidacy. In Iowa City on Saturday morning, Bachmann didn’t even give a speech. After arriving 30 minutes late to her Marshalltown event, Bachmann spoke for just five minutes.
Nevertheless, Bachmann’s events were well attended, and nobody went home without getting an autograph, picture, or having some sort of contact with the candidate at the stops. Some people didn’t even need to be asked to sign supporter cards because they did so willingly before being prompted by campaign staff. The only problem is that the supporter card doesn’t ask someone if they will go or bring friends to the Ames Straw Poll. Instead, it just asks for basic information. If someone chooses to fill out the card and then mail it in, it goes to a Minnesota address, not directly to Bachmann’s Iowa headquarters.
The venues that the Bachmann campaign selected seemed a bit odd. Both the Iowa City and Marshalltown sites were tiny. In Marshalltown, onlookers gathered outside around the bus where Bachmann spoke, but by not holding the events in more traditional venues, signing people up was more difficult for the campaign to accomplish since they had to corral people in a parking lot.
The only campaign staff that mingled with the crowd in Marshalltown came on the bus with Bachmann. The campaign did have two advance people in a huge rental truck that set up a press riser, small stage and some audio-video equipment once she arrived. Nobody worked the crowd before she arrived, which wasn’t good since she was a half hour late. Thankfully, the vendors who were there selling Bachmann buttons were nice and spoke favorably of the candidate.
Bachmann’s other stops were at places that had built-in crowds. She attended the Cedar Rapids Farmers Market and the Tea Party Rally at the State Capitol. She concluded her evening with an I-Cubs game in Des Moines. She gave extensive remarks at the Tea Party rally, but the event only drew around 200 people, which is about the same number of people who showed up at the Tax Day Tea Party event in April in horrible weather.
Bachmann’s tour on Sunday was a bit more traditional, but the crowds still overflowed from the venues that were selected. It’s a nice problem to have, and the visual of an overflowing crowd sure doesn’t hurt either, especially if the bus tour’s goal is to continue to get her as much media exposure as possible. However, if the tour was designed to help turnout people to the Iowa Straw Poll or to identify supporters, more traditional events would have worked better. Still, her ability to connect with Iowans is unmatched by other candidates, and by the size of the crowds she attracts, it’s obvious that she has plenty of star power.
Those traits will help her in Iowa, but the straw poll and caucuses are tests of a campaign’s grassroots organization. While Bachmann currently enjoys high poll numbers and plenty of media attention, she still has to be worried about getting out-worked or out-organized by campaigns that don’t enjoy that luxury.
The difference between Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback at the Straw Poll was under 400 votes. Had it been Huckabee who finished in third place, it would have been his campaign that ended before the caucuses, not Brownback’s. That illustrates just how important it is for these campaigns to get the mechanics of events right.
Bachmann’s campaign may be off and running when it comes to the polls, but they still have some work to do when it comes to taking full advantage of the time she is in the state.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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