On what should have been a triumphant end to a whirlwind 99-county tour of Iowa, GOP contender Michele Bachmann on Wednesday suffered a series of blows to her campaign that began with dismal new poll numbers and ended with her state co-chair defecting to endorse frontrunner Ron Paul.
State Sen. Kent Sorenson, a tea party Republican who joined Bachmann's campaign in its earliest days, announced Wednesday he would support Rep. Ron Paul, changing allegiances just six days before the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses. Sorenson said he switched candidates because Paul was "the most conservative of this group."
Soon after Sorenson made his announcement, Bachmann accused him of being paid off by the Paul campaign to abandon her.
"Kent Sorensonpersonally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign. Kent campaigned with us earlier this afternoon and went immediately afterward to a Ron Paul event and announced he is changing teams. Kent said to me yesterday that 'everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn't I,' then he told me he would stay with our campaign. The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions," Bachmann said in a statement.
Sorenson denied receiving any money following the announcement at a Paul rally in Des Moines. Sorensen said the race in Iowa has come down to a two man contest between Paul and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, and he didn't want Romney to win.
"The fact is there is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both here in Iowa and nationally. Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group," Sorenson said in a statement. "The truth is it was an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to decide between supporting Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the beginning of this campaign."
Bachmann edged out Paul to win the Iowa Straw Poll last summer, but she has fallen precipitously as Paul's star continues to climb. Bachmann, who appeared upbeat at the 10 campaign stops she made Wednesday, had a difficult day on the trail event before Sorenson defected.
A CNN poll released Wednesday put Bachmann in essentially last place, with nine percent of the vote, ahead only of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who is not competing in Iowa. Bachmann brushed off the poll, calling it "one of many polls."
"The biggest poll is going to be on Jan. 3," she added.
Adding to the impression that Bachmann was no longer being considered a viable candidate, reports surfaced that leading Christian pastors had asked her and former Sen. Rick Santorum to exit the race, rather than split the conservative vote and open the door to a win by Mitt Romney.
At an event in Winterset, Iowa, Bachmann said "no one has approached me" to recommend dropping out. Bachmann on Wednesday ticked off her 95th county visited. She will finish the tour tomorrow in Des Moines.