Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) speaks to reporters in West Des Moines,… (Andrew Burton, Getty Images )
Reporting from West Des Moines, Iowa — It was almost as if the Michele Bachmann campaign expected no one to show up at all.
Bachmann kept a light schedule Monday, with her first stop at a diner so small that there was no room for her. It was so packed with cameras, reporters and a smattering of customers that an aide said Bachmann wouldn't come in unless a few people moved.
"But she will be appearing down the street at the Diggity Dog," the aide said.
A walking tour of well-worn storefronts seemed a world away from those heady days in August when Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, which landed her on the cover of Newsweek. Since then, poll numbers have tumbled, staff members have defected and the money has dried up.
Ray Peterson, 52, of Des Moines said he would caucus for Bachmann because of her pledge to reform the tax code, but "I don't have the illusion she's going to finish in the front."
Eventually, Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, elbowed their way in and she cheerfully worked the crowd. Jolene Beveridge, 62, of Grimes said she supports the congresswoman because "I can identify with her as a woman and a mother."
Bachmann stood on a chair to exhort the small gathering to caucus for her, then made her way out the door. She headed to the Diggity Dog, to Nan's Nummies and to the Floral Touch, shaking hands, but few people were out shopping.
A burgundy van rolled by. "Ron Paul! Ron Paul!" the occupants shouted.
By the time she reached her campaign bus, the press was waiting in a frigid wind. She said she'd be heading to South Carolina to keep fighting, Margaret Thatcher style. "I want to be America's Iron Lady," she declared.
But Bachmann, who pinned her presidential hopes to Iowa, was also reflective.
"It was a thrill," she said. "I want you to know what a privilege it has been."