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A day before caucus, Michele Bachmann soldiers on through the cold

January 02, 2012|By James Oliphant
  • Michele Bachmann is surrounded by a crowd at Paula's Cafe in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Michele Bachmann is surrounded by a crowd at Paula's Cafe in West Des… (Andrew Burton / Getty Images )

Reporting from West Des Moines, Iowa — Michele Bachmann delivered her closing argument Monday, but there were precious few voters around to hear it.

The presidential candidate, who isn’t expected to be among the top finishers in the Iowa caucuses, kept a light schedule. A day before the caucuses, while Ron Paul rallied a packed ballroom in Des Moines and Rick Santorum played to bigger and bigger crowds, Bachmann toured a series of small storefronts west of the city.

Her first stop, a small diner, was so jam-packed with cameras, reporters and a smattering of customers that an aide warned that Bachmann herself wouldn’t be able to come in unless some of the media moved behind the lunch counter.

“I came to see Bachmann and to eat,” said Jolene Beveridge of Grimes, surveying the scene. A CBS crew had occupied the other side of her booth. “But I’m not gonna eat.”

Eventually, Bachmann and husband Marcus elbowed their way into the diner and cheerfully greeted the crowd. The Minnesota congresswoman appeared to be in good spirits, despite being outgunned and outspent in Iowa, a state upon which she pinned her campaign hopes.

“It’s pretty tough to get table service right now,” she said to one party of diners. “I’ll just bring it over.”

Bachmann hopped up on a chair and exhorted the diners to caucus for her Monday. Ray Peterson of Des Moines said he would support her because of her pledge to reform the tax code, but “I don’t have the illusion she’s going to finish in the front.”

Beveridge lamented Bachmann's financial disadvantage compared to other candidates. Her ads are rarely on the air here.

"If money is the issue, I wish it wouldn't be," she said. "I don't think money should pick the president."

On a frigid day in Iowa, Bachmann made her way down the street, from Paula’s Cafe to the Diggity Dog, Nan’s Nummies and Floral Touch, entering the shops and greeting the people she found, but the street was largely quiet. Discordance was about. Aides had placed a microphone in front of Bachmann’s tour bus, but a sudden, chilly gale picked up a Bachmann sign from the ground and blew it into the stand, knocking it over with a crash.

In the meantime, a burgundy Ford Econoline van drive up and down the streets, with the occupants shouting “Ron Paul! Ron Paul!’

When Bachmann finally reached her bus, she sounded like a candidate who still hadn’t surrendered. She wanted to keep fighting Thatcher-style. “I want to be America’s Iron Lady,” she declared. She gave a brief stump speech, familiar material to anyone who had heard her before, about her upbringing, her experiences as a tax attorney, her views on national security. But the only people around to hear it were the reporters and camera crews.

But she was also reflective. The bus, she noted, had traveled 6,900 miles in Iowa. And if the journey's end doesn't arrive Tuesday, it appears that it will come soon enough.

“It was a thrill,” Bachmann said. “I want you to know what a privilege it has been.”

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