Bachmann predicts surprise amid ominous Iowa signs

Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks during a campaign stop at Valley High School, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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URBANDALE, Iowa (AP) — Hunting for support in a caucus campaign with high stakes for her lagging presidential bid, Michele Bachmann hoped a late-hour trip Tuesday to her Iowa birthplace would help her stave off the last-place finish forecast by recent polls.

The Minnesota congresswoman and Iowa native was headed to Black Hawk County, in the northeast, to play up her hometown appeal at a caucus there.

Earlier in the day near Des Moines, she predicted a surprise showing and dismissed predictions that a poor finish would force her to leave the race.

"We think people are going to be very surprised with what the vote is tonight. We're confident," Bachmann said after addressing an assembly of suburban high school students. "We're moving on. We're moving forward because this election is far from over. This is the opening chapter. Tonight is the first vote. We've got a long road to go."

Bachmann spent the morning before the big vote deflecting questions about her staying power, sounding a similar message in multiple interviews in which she called herself the "one true conservative" in the GOP contest.

At the school, she signed a pledge to repeal the new national health insurance law. It was crafted by Rep. Steve King, who is influential among conservatives but has declined to endorse a candidate, including Bachmann, his close friend and colleague.

Once seen as the candidate to beat after winning the Iowa straw poll in August, Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, had a schedule ahead of the voting that was packed with interviews on Iowa airwaves and with conservative radio shows nationally.

Bachmann used the Waterloo area as the backdrop for campaign kickoff in June, followed two months later by her GOP straw poll victory. But since then she's been coping with money woes, plagued by campaign staff turnover and overshadowed by other contenders. She is competing fiercely with former Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry for support among evangelical voters and with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for tea party backing.

Top campaign advisers said Bachmann would benefit from a support network built through her visits to small towns and churches in every corner of Iowa.

She said she is banking on "silent support" not detected in polling. Bachmann has touted her backing by more than 200 pastors, many of whom she believes will turn out their entire congregations on her behalf.

The campaign also sent emails to Republicans in all 99 Iowa counties with Bachmann issuing a tailored greeting while surrounded by locals. Her state chairman, Iowa state Sen. Brad Zaun, said there hadn't been any "what if" conversations should the vote bear out the poll numbers.

Even after a grueling few weeks, Bachmann projected no outward signs of defeat. She exhibited her usual pep and smiled continually throughout a 6,000-plus-mile, 10-day sprint through Iowa, including stops where crowds were thin.

From Iowa, Bachmann planned to head straight to South Carolina, which has the first Southern primary, on Jan. 21, after the caucuses. She won't arrive in New Hampshire, which holds a primary next week, until the weekend for a couple of nationally televised debates.

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