Michele Bachmann campaigns on her family roots in Waterloo, Iowa. And she used those roots and a family reunion as the reason she was late to Sunday night’s high-profile dinner and speeches featuring her, Rick Santorum, and new presidential candidate Rick Perry.
But a family source tells NBC News, Bachmann was not at the event.
"About 10 years ago was the last time I saw Michele at a reunion," Shirly Movick, 76, who said she is Bachmann’s first cousin, told NBC News. She added that she hadn't seen Bachmann, or her family, come to the reunion "since she's been involved in politics."
Movick confirmed that Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, and the couple's three daughters, did attend the event, however. The reunion, in Lake Mills, IA, is held annually on the second Sunday of August. Movick said she has been going all her life.
The revelation, first reported by Politico, raises questions about a response Bachmann gave a reporter Sunday evening. While taking questions from reporters following her appearance at the Black Hawk County GOP dinner, Bachmann was asked why she had not arrived earlier to the dinner, in time to see Perry's speech.
"We had a full day today," Bachmann responded. "I was doing a number of things down in Ames. And we had a big family reunion just north of Waterloo."
The Bachmann campaign maintained she was with family.
"There were a few family reunion events that weekend,” campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart told NBC. “She attended one on Friday. Marcus and the kids went to one on Sunday, and Michele met with family members on her own."
Asked to clarify why Bachmann missed Perry's speech, and why she did not mix-and-mingle before her own speech, Stewart said, "Like I said -- she was with family members before AND she mixed with the crowd for half an hour after she spoke."
But how Bachmann comported herself at this event -- and others -- also raises questions about her level of dedication to real retail campaigning. This one, like others, have been more rally than retail. Unlike Perry and Santorum, she did not sit and chat at tables before the speeches during the dinner portion. Instead, she signed autographs on stage for about 30 minutes, as music blared from speakers.
That rankled organizer Judd Saul, spokesman for the Black Hawk County GOP and the self-proclaimed leader of the area’s Tea Party.
"If you claim Waterloo,” he said, “come and dine with Waterloo.” (Bachmann was born in Waterloo.)
Saul was also irked that the party wasn’t able to capitalize on having two big-name speakers and raise the kind of money they could have because of Bachmann.
"We had a couple speakers scheduled to speak after her,” he said, “and we were going to do our big ask for our fundraiser, but as soon as she was done, the music blasted up; she started signing autographs, and … people just started leaving. So two speakers missed their chance to speak, and we missed our ask to the Republicans here for our fundraising -- extra money that we needed to carry for the caucus."
At her speech at the Des Moines Register’s “Soap Box” at the Iowa State Fair this weekend, she was half an hour late, gave just a 2-minute, 45-second speech -- far shorter than other candidates, some of whom took up their full 20 minutes of allotted time and also took questions. Bachmann did not. Toward the end of the speech, she said, "I'm coming out to shake your hand.” She shook some hands, but made a beeline about 50 feet to a waiting golf cart and was driven off.
There have also been examples of reporters being manhandled by her security staff – at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans in June, at a South Carolina event in July, and then again at the State Fair.
Sunday's Republican dinner was closely watched, because it marked the first time Bachmann, fresh from her win Saturday at the Ames Straw Poll, would share an event with Perry, who is likely to compete for many of the same kinds of voters. And with Perry’s entrance into the race, how Bachmann does retail -- in states where it matters like Iowa and New Hampshire -- is likely to get more scrutiny.
*** UPDATE *** Stewart contacted NBC to emphasize that security at the RLC, when the incident occured with a reporter, was provided by the hotel.
*** UPDATE 2 *** On security, Stewart says: "Michele Bachmann is a high-profile congresswoman. On the heels of the Gabby Giffords shooting, security is of the utmost concern to our campaign. We have a former Secret Service officer who's protected presidents and vice presidents, and if someone gets too close to the candidate, he warns them."