The convergence of two high-profile campaigns at a GOP dinner in Waterloo, IA tonight promises the polite and strained feel of a weigh-in at a boxing match. Fresh from her win at the Ames Straw Poll, Michele Bachmann will appear at the dinner alongside Texas Gov. Rick Perry –- who made his own news Saturday by announcing his presidential bid.
Consider that Waterloo is Bachmann’s childhood city, and this evening's drama comes into focus.
And then there's even a bit more drama, plus some hurt feelings: The local Republican Party (the Black Hawk County GOP) says it sent Bachmann -- and the other major presidential candidates -- an invitation to tonight's dinner six weeks ago. But the Bachmann campaign, sources tell NBC News, called after 11:00 pm last Tuesday Wednesday with a request: that Bachmann come to the event only if she won the straw poll.
Citing difficulties arranging for food at the last minute, the county GOP turned down the offer. "I said, if that’s your stipulation, I can’t do it," said Black Hawk County GOP chair Mac McDonald. Ultimately, McDonald explained, the campaign accepted the invitation without condition.
"We all thought that was weird," Black Hawk County GOP spokesman Judd Saul added. "That put us off."
But the Bachmann campaign tells NBC News it made no conditional offer to accept the dinner invitation. The campaign adds that Bachmann wanted to attend the event all along, but it had to address a scheduling conflict due to a campaign swing through South Carolina.
"Clearly, she is supporting Black Hawk County," said campaign spokesperson Alice Stewart. "It takes a lot to reschedule one event, let alone a full day of events in South Carolina."
But even eeks before invitations to tonight's dinner were sent, a more subtle story was already unfolding in Waterloo: a feeling by local party officials that they were being neglected by the Bachmann campaign. For instance, they say the campaign didn't inform them about prior visits to Waterloo –- including Bachmann’s June 27 announcement for president. "I learned she was running for president reading the newspaper," said Saul, the Black Hawk County GOP spokesman.
Saul also happens to run the local Tea Party, and he says members of his 1,000-person email list complained about not having notice of Bachmann’s announcement. "If she’s claiming to be Tea Party," Saul says, "we’d appreciate some coordination."
Despite his frustration, however, Saul speaks nicely about Bachmann: "I like her. I like her values."
"She stood firm on the debt ceiling, so I admire her," he added.