INDIANOLA, Iowa (AP) — Michele Bachmann's struggling presidential campaign saw her Iowa chairman defect Wednesday to rival Ron Paul's side, an embarrassing blow that came as some called for her to leave the race to free up her supporters for other candidates.
Hours after appearing with Bachmann at an event, state Sen. Kent Sorenson gave his endorsement to the Texas congressman at a Des Moines rally. Sorenson said he resigned from Bachmann's campaign to back Paul, whom he called the most conservative of the top-tier candidates.
Bachmann said Sorenson made the jump after "he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign."
"Kent said to me yesterday that 'everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn't I,'" Bachmann said in a written statement. "Then he told me he would stay with our campaign. The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions."
Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton said the campaign was not paying Sorenson and that he was puzzled why Bachmann would make such a claim against an elected official popular with Iowa conservatives.
"We've always known Michele to be an honorable person. She should stop slandering an honorable Iowa state senator," Benton said.
Benton said Paul campaign officials had been begun speaking to Sorenson "in earnest" in the last few days, and that he had informed the campaign Wednesday he was ready to sign on.
Sorenson announced the switch during a Paul veterans rally in Des Moines. He didn't immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press to address Bachmann's charges that the move was financially based.
"The fact is, there is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both here in Iowa and nationally. Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group," Sorenson said in a statement. "The truth is, it was an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to decide between supporting Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the beginning of this campaign."
Susan Geddes, a veteran operative in conservative GOP political circles who managed Sorenson's 2008 and 2010 legislative races, said Sorenson had told her several times, as recently as last month, that the Paul campaign had offered him money to leave Bachmann's campaign for the Texas congressman's.
Geddes said Sorenson had damaged his political future in Iowa by abandoning Bachmann's campaign less than a week before the caucuses.
"He just committed political suicide," she said.
Bachmann has been on a frantic 99-county push across Iowa in an effort to recover from the slide that followed her Iowa straw poll victory in August. Paul was a close second in that contest.
Earlier in the day, two influential pastors said they wanted either her or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to drop out of the running to keep evangelical voters from splitting their support. Bachmann insisted she would see the Iowa caucus campaign through.
Sorenson, who has strong ties to Iowa's tea party, was one of Bachmann's earliest public supporters and joined her for an afternoon stop at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Indianola. Standing by her side, he declined to speak to the crowd there, citing numbness from dental work.
All day, Bachmann bashed Paul as "dangerous" for having a hands-off foreign policy. It was part of a double-barreled attack on the two Texans in the race. She went after Gov. Rick Perry for "27 years as a political insider."
The aggressive tone underscored Bachmann's role as a chaser in the final week of campaigning. She has bet heavily on Iowa, where she was born.
Bachmann came hardest at Perry, who this week began a television ad lumping Bachmann with other Washington figures seeking the GOP nomination in his attempt to come off as the outsider in the race.
"Just because he's held office outside of Washington, D.C., does not mean he is not a political insider. It's what you do in your office that matters," she said outside a small-town cafe. "There aren't very many politicians who have spent more time paying off political donors than Gov. Rick Perry has."
Perry has served Texas as a legislator, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor.
Bachmann also said Perry has engaged in "crony capitalism" by helping donors with Texas government contracts or giving them political appointments. And she called Perry a double-dipper for collecting his gubernatorial salary and state pension at the same time.
Campaigning in Indianola on Wednesday, Perry scored what appeared to be a double hit of his own. Although he didn't name his targets, he took aim at lawmakers who sound off in Washington without much influence on policy — a rap sometimes attached to Bachmann and Paul.
"Some campaigns are about their voting record, on bills that never make it to the president's desk. I'm campaigning on ideas that I've signed into law," Perry said.
As for Paul, Bachmann criticized him as misguided about foreign threats to U.S. interests.
"Ron Paul would be a dangerous president," Perry said. "He would have us ignore all of the warning signs of another brutal dictator who wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. I won't. He would wait until one of our cities is wiped off of the map until he reacted. I won't wait."
On Wednesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CNN that he would find it personally difficult to vote for Paul if the Texas congressman were to become the party's choice to go up against President Barack Obama next fall. Bachmann refused to go that far, dodging two direct questions about her willingness to back Paul later on.
"He won't win the nomination," she said.
At stop after stop, Bachmann cast herself as America's "Iron Lady," the nickname assigned to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Bachmann sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which she said gives her a firm grip on world affairs.
State Sen. Brad Zaun, who had been Bachmann's Iowa co-chairman, was named full chairman after Sorenson's resignation.
Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont, Beth Fouhy and Philip Elliott in Iowa contributed to this report.