Michele Bachmann falls from grace

From top GOP contender to bottom of the barrel

But the head-in-the-sand strategy failed to account for the departing staff sending out a press release about it. The release included a letter detailing the drama that had led to the team quitting en masse. When the money dried up, five full-time campaign staffers were asked to go off payroll.

But that wasn't why they bolted, according to the letter: Bachmann's national team had simply stopped returning their phone calls. Confronted with such dysfunction, the staffers had lost all faith in Bachmann's chances of winning.

"The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel," read the letter. "But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens. These are our neighbors and our friends, and some within the national team treated them more as a nuisance than as potential supporters."

The exodus spoke to a larger problem for Bachmann in New Hampshire, says Dante Scala, University of New Hampshire political science professor. While Bachmann had attempted to court New Hampshire in the early days of her campaign, she hadn't returned, and voters took it personally.

"When they don't show, activists rightly think that the candidate's not interested," says Scala. "The candidate pays lip service to New Hampshire, and that just doesn't play well here."

The Resurrection?

On January 3, Bachmann faces the next milestone in the GOP race: the Iowa caucus. Within the month, the campaign trail moves to primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.

This time, instead of appearing to be a top-tier candidate, she is trailing distantly from her opponents. As if her campaign hadn't already endured enough turmoil, her Iowa campaign co-chairman, Keith Sorenson, announced he was defecting to Ron Paul's campaign less than a week before the caucus.

To keep afloat, she's praying for a miracle. If she doesn't get one, her cash-strapped campaign will likely be forced to fold up the tent, says Steve Smith of Washington University.

"Obviously, she has to do very well in Iowa," says Smith. "That probably means doing first or second. And I think there's very little chance she could do that."

But if Newt Gingrich has taught us anything, it's that this GOP race is unpredictable. Though Bachmann's chances of actually winning the presidency seem slimmer by the day, it's too early to count her out entirely, says Al Eisele, formerly of the Hill.

"We're still about 11 months short of the election," says Eisele. "A lot of things can happen—and will."

But for Bachmann, coming back would be a biblical feat. The story of the two and a half months following Ames is a testament to the volatility of the 2012 Republican race, and a cautionary tale of how quickly a candidate can be shunned.

"Her fall was precipitous," says Downs. "It was strong and forceful. It almost seemed to be overnight."

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