Is Michele Bachmann Toast?

| Mon Sep. 26, 2011 9:34 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann.

It was Herman Cain, Republican presidential long-shot, who stole the headlines this weekend when he won the Florida Straw Poll with 37 percent of the 2,700 people who voted. Cain trounced both Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with 15 percent, who pushed hard for a victory in Florida, and Mitt Romney, with 14 percent, who was much less of a presence at the event.

But more shocking than Cain's victory (and Perry's defeat) was the utter collapse of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Somehow, in a state chock full of tea party groups, Bachmann finished dead last, with 1.5 percent of the vote. Once a frontrunner in early GOP presidential polls, Bachmann has sunk so far, so fast that even moderate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign imploded months ago, placed higher than her. It's all unraveling for Michele.

Bachmann has been in free fall for weeks. She's barely registered in the past three presidential debates, outshone and outslugged by Perry and Romney. And when Bachmann did put points on the board by highlighting Perry's ties to pharmaceutical giant Merck as an underlying factor in his ill-fated human papilloma virus vaccination mandate, she overshadowed those remarks by suggesting soon after that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. (It absolutely does not.) The public and the pundits quickly forgot about Bachmann's Merck comments as she doubled down her vaccine-retardation claim. Later, a former campaign adviser ripped her for making the claim in the first place.

That adviser, veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins, said Bachmann's chances of claiming the nomination are slim. Although she has a shot at winning the Iowa caucuses—she did, of course, win the Iowa Straw Poll in August—Rollins said Bachmann lacks the "resources or ability at this point in time" to challenge for the nomination after Iowa. Her last-place finish in Florida raises questions about whether even winning Iowa is realistic for Bachmann, especially given Rick Perry's support among the social conservatives who dominate the GOP in the Hawkeye State.

Before joining the Bachmann campaign full-time in June (he's since stepped down to an advisory role), Rollins' assessment of Bachmann was that he didn't consider her a legitimate candidate for the GOP nomination. "Michele Bachmann obviously is a member of Congress and a representative of the tea party," Rollins told CNN in January. "But at the end of the day, we have to get our serious players out front and talking about the things that matter to be the alternative to the president and Democrats." Despite the brief Bachmann craze this summer, it looks like Rollins was right all along.

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