Fighting county by county, handshake by handshake, GOP contenders Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry twice crossed paths today in the northwest corner of Iowa, each hoping that time spent on the ground here will equal votes come the first in the nation caucuses on Jan 3.
Both candidates are lagging in the polls despite the socially conservative bona fides that Republican Iowa caucus-goers traditionally look for. Iowa voters routinely say they make their decision only after shaking a candidate's hand, and each is hoping that old-school retail politics, gruelingly practiced on days-long bus tours will be the key to their success.
Perry and Bachmann both spent Friday night in Spencer, Iowa, even staying at the same hotel. Their giant tour buses, wrapped with campaign logos, were parked just feet apart.
At events today in Spencer and Algona, held sometimes moments apart and just a few miles away from each other, voters had to choose between which candidate to meet.
"Michele Bachmann is coming down for a meet-and-greet, so I came down to support her because I am a supporter of her campaign," said Denis Heins, a retiree from Spencer, who met Bachmann when she visited the café attached to Hy-Vee Supermarket.
"I don't believe in Perry's thoughts. I believe Bachmann is for the regular person," Heins said. "She believes in the moral values of Iowa. She's a born Iowan. She is from Minnesota, but born in Waterloo, Iowa. I believe she's for the normal person and the middle income, and not for the rich like other politicians are."
Soon after Bachmann's Hy-Vee appearance, Perry met a voter in Spencer outside a coffee house who was asking for an autograph. The paper he wanted signed was a receipt from Hy-Vee, already bearing Bachmann's signature.
"You get Michele on that side. I'll get over here," Perry told John Kruse before signing "Rick Perry God Speed" on the bill.
"We spent the night at the same… We had both the buses out the front, so we see each other out on the trail there. She's a good gal," Perry said of Bachmann.
But at an event in Algona, where Gov. Perry was also visiting, Bachmann had less kind words for the Texas governor, particularly with regard to his support for a mandatory vaccine for girls against a sexually transmitted disease that has been linked to cervical cancer.
"There's real questions and real problems with Gov. Perry because of what he was involved with in the manufacture of Gardisil, and he was involved with companies in Texas that made donations to him and then there were laws passed and grants that were given," Bachmann said of Perry, accusing him of influence peddling.
"We can't have that," she said. "I don't believe in crony capitalism. People don't want to see pay-to-play. We can't have a candidate that's tarnished. Gov. Perry has been involved in politics for 27 years and I'm the true outsider."
Mel Cornwell, a corn bean farmer from Spencer, saw Bachmann at the HyVee in the early morning before heading to Perry's event at La Chiesa. Cornwell said he was undecided before attending the two events but decided to support Perry after his speech this morning.
"He's patriotic," Cornwell said. "We've got to get this anti-American stuff out of the way. I like what he believes in."
Mark Foss, a cattle buyer from Wahpeton who drove to Spirit Lake to see Bachmann and attended Perry's Spencer event afterwards, had kind words for each of the candidates.
"I went to see her in Spirit Lake this morning. She had a good message, it was a quick stop and everything, very very sincere," Foss said of Bachmann.
"I was really, been a little on the fence about Governor Perry and I was very refreshed, impressed with his remarks there, and I got a good impression, now the struggles a little more difficult between now and Jan. 3," Foss said.
Foss said he is still undecided, considering Bachmann, Perry and Romney, whom he has yet to see this election but remembers from 2008.
Perry and Bachmann are each on the road until just before Christmas. Bachmann kicked off her tour Friday, and plans to visit all 99 of the state's counties. She planned to make 13 stops today.