(Updates with Sorenson comments in fifth paragraph, Romney and Santorum comments starting in the 15th. For more campaign news, see ELECT.)
Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Michele Bachmann pressed her allegations that the former head of her Iowa presidential bid was bribed by the campaign of rival Ron Paul to endorse him, even as one of her own aides denied the charge.
“He told me that he was offered money, he was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign,” the congresswoman from Minnesota told reporters today in a parking lot adjacent to a funeral home near downtown Des Moines. “No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself.”
Sorenson, a state senator, yesterday resigned as Bachmann’s state chairman and announced his backing of Paul, a leading contender to win Iowa’s Jan. 3 Republican caucuses.
Bachmann, who polls show is in the back of the pack in the Iowa race, said Sorenson told her during a Dec. 27 phone call that he was offered money to support Paul. Speaking today outside the studios of WHO-AM radio in Des Moines, she declined to say how much money was involved.
Sorenson didn’t immediately respond to a phone message left at his home by Bloomberg News. He told CNN today that his decision was “absolutely not” a sellout, and that he wasn’t offered money.
Paul’s campaign sent out a statement issued by Wes Enos, Bachmann’s Iowa political director, also denying the bribery charge.
“I can say unequivocally that Kent Sorenson’s decision was, in no way financially motivated,” Enos said in his statement. “While I personally disagree with Kent’s decision, and plan to stay with Michele Bachmann because I truly believe in her, I cannot, in good conscious watch a good man like Kent Sorenson be attacked as a ‘sell-out.’”
Sorenson, in a statement released by Paul’s campaign after the endorsement, said he made the switch because he believes Bachmann can’t win her party’s contest.
“There is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both here in Iowa and nationally,” he said. “Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group.”
Bachmann also targeted Paul for criticism on other fronts, including the Texas congressman’s calls to withdraw U.S. troops from overseas commitments and to legalize drugs as a way to better regulate their sale and reduce profits to violent drug cartels.
She termed Paul’s foreign policy “dangerous,” and said he is “willing to legalize drugs in the United States, including heroin and cocaine.”
Bachmann denied that her campaign is struggling in Iowa, where she has placed her greatest emphasis. She also said she would finish he quest to visit all of the state’s 99 counties today.
Paul, speaking later on WHO-AM, played down his role in the publication of incendiary statements in newsletters produced under his name in the mid-1990s. He said he wasn’t aware of all the content at the time of publication.
“It wasn’t a reflection of my views at all,” he said. “I was not an editor. I’m like a publisher.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, vying with Paul for the lead in Iowa in recent polls, today dismissed the Texan’s political prospects. “Ron Paul’s not going to be out nominee” he said in an interview aboard his campaign bus in Iowa with the RealClearPolitics website.
A CNN/Time/ORC International poll on the Republican race in Iowa released yesterday showed Romney with the support of 25 percent of likely caucus participants, followed by Paul with 22 percent. Running third was former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with 16 percent. Bachmann was backed by 9 percent.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, after weathering televised attacks from opponents within his party, lost significant support in the poll of likely caucus-goers, falling to 14 percent in the survey that was conducted Dec. 21-27 and has an margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
A month ago, Gingrich had 33 percent support in a similar poll, topping Romney’s 20 percent. Santorum has surged from 5 percent in that Nov. 29-Dec. 6 poll.
Gingrich Won’t Quit
Gingrich said that he won’t drop out of the race, even if he finishes fourth in Iowa.
“There are more than three tickets” out of Iowa, he told reporters today in Sioux City as he visited his campaign office there. “Considering that I’m 20 points ahead in some other states, it would be fairly foolish for me not to stay in the race. It is a long way from here to picking the nominee.”
While reiterating plans to keep his television commercials positive, Gingrich is stepping up criticisms of Romney and Paul.
“It’s all going to be turmoil until Tuesday night,” he said, referring to the caucus vote. “On Tuesday, probably a third to half the people that walk in will be open to changing their minds about all of us.”
Santorum, who had been mostly ignored by his rivals throughout the campaign, is receiving some attacks now that he has risen in the polls and has the potential to coalesce the votes of social conservatives, who are a prominent bloc in the state’s Republican Party.
“Senator Santorum, Congressmen Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann have long backed congressional earmarks and pork,” Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Texas Governor Rick Perry, said in a statement today that referred to federal spending for local projects. “Expecting them to overhaul Washington is asking a fox to guard the henhouse.”
Perry, who was backed by 11 percent in the CNN poll, said at an Iowa event today that Santorum had a taste for “Pennsylvania pork” while in the Senate.
In a Fox News interview, Santorum defended his use of earmarks while in Congress.
“I’m proud of the money that I did set aside for things that were priorities in my state,” he said.
Santorum also stood by a comment he made about Paul’s age at an earlier event, saying he did it in a “joking way” as he suggested the congressman wouldn’t change his foreign policy views if he made it to the White House.
“My comment was, you know, how many 78-year-old men do you know who change their opinions?” he said of Paul, who is 76. “People are pretty set in their ways.”
Romney, who has intensified his efforts in Iowa as polls have shown he could win the caucuses, campaigned today across the state’s northern tier.
In Mason City, Romney urged voters to think carefully about which candidate could beat President Barack Obama in the general election.
“This is a process not just of putting your name or your hand next to someone who you kind of like,” he told several hundred voters gathered at the town’s Music Man Square. “It’s also selecting who our nominee ought to be, who you think could beat Barack Obama.”
Continuing his newly aggressive push in the state, Romney unveiled a busy schedule of events for the final days before the caucuses. After traveling tomorrow to New Hampshire -- site of a Jan. 10 primary -- he plans to return to Iowa the next day for a series of appearances and remain in the state through the caucuses.
His campaign also announced he will remain in Des Moines the morning after the caucuses to do a number of television interviews, a sign of confidence that they will perform well in the voting.
“Sure I want to win Iowa. Everybody wants to win Iowa,” he told voters standing in front of a replica of the set from the 1962 movie version of “The Music Man,” a story set in a fictionalized version of Mason City.
Romney took questions from the audience. “Is it hard running for the president?” asked eight-year-old Ben Navratil.
“The answer is yes, and no,” Romney responded. “Ha, ha, ha. Sounds like a politician, I apologize.”
Romney, who also sought the Republican nomination in 2008, said it’s hard for him to wake up early in the morning after staying in a different hotel every night.
Still, he called running for president “the greatest opportunity” to meet new people and expand his network of friends.
“So if you get the chance to do it, make sure and do it,” he said. “Win or lose, it’s a great thing to do.”
--With assistance from Tim Higgins in Sioux City, Iowa. Editors: Don Frederick, Leslie Hoffecker
in Des Moines, Iowa, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at email@example.com
To contact the reporters on this story:
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org