As Fall Campaign Season Kicks Off, Michele Bachmann Faces Series of Challenges

Only three weeks after she stood atop the political world following her victory at the Iowa straw poll, Michele Bachmann suddenly finds herself facing a slew of challenges in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ironically enough, Bachmann’s biggest problem took shape the same day that she won in Ames: halfway across the country, Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally entered the race. Since then, Perry has shot to the top of the national polls, relegating Bachmann back in the pack. According to the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Perry leads the Republican field with 29 percent support among leaning Republicans, followed by Mitt Romney with 25 percent, Ron Paul in third with 10 percent and Bachmann in fourth with 8 percent. Back in July, Bachmann had twice as much support, coming in at 16 percent.

At the same time as Perry has been skyrocketing up the polls, Bachmann has not done much to help her own cause. Late last month she ran into trouble when she said Hurricane Irene was God’s attempt to get politicians in Washington to cut back on federal spending.

“I don’t know much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” she said at a campaign event in Florida. “We’ve had an earthquake, we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

Bachmann later said she was joking, but that explanation only led to even more questions, since the hurricane had killed over 30 people and caused billions of dollars in damages along the East Coast.

The problems didn’t end there. At 10 p.m. on Labor Day, Bachmann announced a series of sweeping staff changes at the top of her campaign. Ed Rollins, who had led her to victory in Ames, stepped down from his role as campaign manager, a move that was chalked up to health reasons.

“In less than 50 days and with fewer resources than other campaigns, Ed was the architect that led our campaign to a historic victory in Iowa,” Bachmann said in a statement late Monday night. “I am grateful for his guidance and leadership, and fortunate to retain his valuable advice even though his health no longer permits him to oversee the day-to-day operations of the campaign.”

Rollins, 68, suffered a stroke a year and a half ago. He will now serve as a senior advisor to the campaign, while current campaign strategist Keith Nahigian will become interim campaign manager. In addition to Rollins’ move, his top deputy David Polyansky left the campaign altogether.

The changes come at a crucial time. Not only is Perry currently surging, but the upcoming September calendar is packed with debates. On Wednesday night the GOP contenders will participate in a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., while next Monday they will gather again in Tampa for another debate.

But that could play to Bachmann’s strengths. In the past two Republican debates she has performed well. She stole the headlines at the first debate in New Hampshire earlier this summer. Then two days before the straw poll she went toe-to-toe with rival Tim Pawlenty in Iowa before she knocked him out of the race altogether with her victory in Ames.

If Bachmann can duplicate her debate magic again in the coming weeks, she could dispel all the talk that the GOP battle is now a two-person race between Perry and Romney.

In addition, another development that may help the Minnesota congresswoman is the end of the summer recess for the House of Representatives. With the House coming back into session, Bachmann can once again highlight her work in Washington.

“This was a wonderful down-payment on taking the country back and it started in Iowa,” Bachmann exclaimed after winning the straw poll on Aug. 13, triumphantly thanking her supporters there. “Now it’s on to all 50 states!”

But whereas her success that day inspired confidence and optimism, more recent developments are cause for concern. If she is to enter the Iowa caucuses as a top contender come this winter, Bachmann needs to put together a strong fall performance on the campaign trail, starting tomorrow night in California.