Michele Bachmann Is a No-Show in New Hampshire

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Since her Ames straw poll victory, Michele Bachmann has been to South Carolina, Florida, New York City and of course Iowa. But not the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. Since Ames, on Aug. 13 in Iowa, all of her GOP rivals have at least popped into the Granite State.

Despite what looks like a strategy to focus on early states where voters tend to be more socially conservative -- Iowa, South Carolina -- New Hampshire political observers say the Minnesota congresswoman bypasses the state at her peril.

Neil Levesque, political director at the nonpartisan New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm, where the popular "Politics and Eggs" series is held, said he doesn't know of any upcoming Bachmann trips. However, the Institute has heard from her, he said. "It's not like we are not in communication.

"I don't think she's thrown in the towel. It's just been noticeable, she's been absent here," Levesque said.

"Many people win Iowa and don't become president," he continued. "The fact is New Hampshire voters are fair and they take this seriously and if she competed here she would do well."

Levesque added, "Sometimes people say social conservatives won't do well in New Hampshire. Well, that's not true. Some people say someone with a Southern accent won't do well. That's not true either."

The problem seems to be Rick Perry. The Texas governor has sucked the oxygen out of a lot of the room—which Bachmann herself admitted —grabbing headlines and becoming the contest's frontrunner, completely eclipsing Bachmann's straw poll win. With his conservative bona fides and years of experience running one of the world's largest economies, he can appeal to both social and fiscal conservatives.

But not so fast, says longtime political strategist and current unaffiliated RNC committeeman Steve Duprey. He points out that Perry may not be a natural candidate in the state and Bachmann is "missing a tremendous opportunity."

"This is a state where you can campaign without spending a huge amount of money. It's where her very personal warm style would appeal to voters," Duprey, who also is a close friend of John McCain's and traveled with him throughout the 2008 contest, said. "I don't think this is a natural state for Gov. Perry, and I do think she would do well here."

"It's not that we have a large evangelical population, but probably the most conservative state fiscally in the nation," Duprey said. "Her fiscal conservative credentials would play well here and somewhat contrasts with Gov. Perry…. New Englanders are reticent, reserved and there's something about Texas politicians that are open, optimistic and big thinking and it's a culture shock."

Duprey pointed out that he's not biased against Texans; he pledged his support for Phil Gramm's 1996 candidacy. Rick Perry's closest advisor, Dave Carney, is a New Hampshire resident and it will undoubtedly help having an expert at the terrain.

Another Texas governor, George W. Bush, lost the state to John McCain in 2000, but still was able to grab the nomination. McCain came back to win it again in 2008, which propelled him to capturing the nomination.

There are historical comparisons that should serve as a lesson to Bachmann and her advisors, New Hampshire strategists caution. Mike Dennehy, a longtime political consultant, pointed to Pat Buchanan's victory over Bob Dole in 1996 as evidence that Bachmann could surprise in the live-free-or-die state.

She had some high profile gaffes on some of her earlier campaign visits most notably telling a crowd in Manchester in March, "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord," incorrectly confusing New Hampshire with Massachusetts. But an impressive debate performance in New Hampshire in June got people talking.

"I think she can do better than her own campaign thinks she can do," Dennehy said.

Candidates this cycle such as Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney are not campaigning as actively in Iowa—although there's plenty of evidence to show Romney will play harder there than he's letting on—just as McCain skipped the Hawkeye state last time around. But New Hampshire is a different story historically.

"I think it's a fatally flawed strategy that could spell the end of her candidacy. There has never been a Republican nominee that has skipped New Hampshire," Dennehy said. "The time is now.... Let's face it, she had the momentum in June and into July, and that momentum is gone."

Another potential problem for Bachmann in New Hampshire surrounds some local GOP drama. On Thursday, GOP Chairman Jack Kimball resigned shortly before the party's executive committee was set to vote on his removal.

Some of Bachmann's biggest supporters in the state--most notably state chairman Jeff Chidester-- supported Kimball's staying in his role. It may seem like local drama, but it can't help.

Neither Chidester nor the Bachmann campaign returned requests for comment.

Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2008, wrote a column on the topic in the Manchester Union Leader last weekend. He said once New Hampshire activists get wind that Bachmann isn't playing or committed to the state, they will be goners. Cullen said people felt burned during the last cycle when candidates they signed up to work for chose not to compete.

"Activists felt like they were sold a pig in a poke with Rudy [Giuliani] and Fred [Thompson].... They felt disillusioned and abandoned," said Cullen. "Mitt Romney might be having that problem in Iowa right now."

However, not everyone on the ground thinks she's making a strategic error. Jamie Burnett, a GOP consultant who worked for Mitt Romney last time, but is unaffiliated this cycle, said it's important to focus on Iowa, because a loss in Iowa means the conservative congresswoman is done.

"To be honest, I've never seen her as someone who would keep competing in the long term in New Hampshire or nationally.

"Michele Bachmann here or nationally appeals to a relatively narrow subset of voters," he said. "Rick Perry appeals to a greater subset of voters and a broader audience. Perry appeals, like Bachmann, to social conservatives, Tea Party members, but Perry also appeals to mainstream conservatives and Republicans. But Michele Bachmann doesn't have that broad reach or broad appeal. Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul are all competing for the same voters [as Bachmann] in New Hampshire, but in Iowa there is a larger socially conservative electorate."

Bachmann canceled two events in New Hampshire after Ames. That may not be a deal breaker for voters on the surface as candidates' schedules do shuffle, but Burnett pointed out that the old New Hampshire saying that voters need to meet a candidate three times before they make a decision isn't really an embellishment.

"It's true. People do really want to touch you and feel you," Burnett said.

And she's just not showing up right now.