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Bachmann camp to vexed former N.H. staffers: 'Our focus is Iowa'

In an evolving he-said, she-said, Michele Bachmann’s national campaign team is pushing back against sharp complaints by the five New Hampshire staffers who abruptly quit this weekend.

Reached by telephone this afternoon, campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart lobbed back charges of poor dialogue with the national team. "It's hard to respond to individuals that aren't communicating with us," Stewart told NBC. 

In a strikingly cutting press release issued Sunday evening, the outgoing New Hampshire staff paint a picture of a conflict on a slow burn since late June, complaining of being “constantly left out of the loop regarding key decisions, and relegated to second-class citizens.”

The five staffers -- who comprised Bachmann’s paid New Hampshire team -- note in the release that the national campaign had suspended their pay in early September due to financial constraints. They insist, however, “Pay was not a primary motivation.”

Instead, the staffers point to personal beefs, writing, “The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team-NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and, at times, cruel.”

The conflict seems to have reached a boiling point during Bachmann’s visit to New Hampshire earlier this month -- her first since June 28th. The release calls those incidents “private,” but a later paragraph complains of “how abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive some within the national team were toward many New Hampshire citizens."

Stewart brushed off those charges, saying, “I'm not going to comment on the personal attacks that they made.” 

Stewart pins the fallout on local disappointment with a campaign strategy that puts Iowa before New Hampshire.

“We've been clear all along our focus is Iowa,” Stewart told NBC. "There's only so many days to be in Iowa, and she has to take advantage of every single one of them, and be there.”

The campaign has sent public signals since the summer that it was shifting into an Iowa-centric strategy. It canceled a planned a trip to New Hampshire following its win at the Iowa straw poll Aug. 13th, and later published a video narrated by Campaign Manager Keith Nahigian that admits, “We are going to compete in New Hampshire, but not dominate our effort like we are in Iowa.” 

Bachmann will file for the New Hampshire primary by mail, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office. If she does so, the campaign will be opting out of the usual in-person fanfare that accompanies candidates who are aggressively competing in the Granite State. Historically, most candidates choose to file in person, joined by staff and supporters.

But since news of the departures Friday, a second dispute has emerged, focusing on the timeline of events leading to the rupture.  According to the release, former staffer Jeff Chidester declared via email Oct. 12th that he was "done" with the campaign. A follow-up email was sent Oct. 14th threatening an exodus of the remaining staff, the release adds.

Stewart rejects that account, telling NBC the departures were a surprise to the national team, pre-empting efforts to repair the relationship. 

"It would have been helpful for them to communicate with us," Stewart said, "but they chose to communicate with the media."

During a telephone interview today with NBC, Chidester -- the most senior member of the departing staff -- doubled down on the timeline detailed in the release. 

"It was clear that senior staff knew I was leaving a week ago last Thursday," he said.

Chidester tells NBC he is being recruited by other campaigns. 

"There are several attractive candidates already," he said, adding that he expects the other New Hampshire staffers to announce this week plans to join other campaigns.

The possibility of defections has seemed to strike a nerve at Bachmann’s national headquarters. About the news that one of the departing staffers -- Caroline Gigler -- having already joined the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Stewart said, of the outgoing staffers: “It makes it hard to understand what their motives are.”

Late today, Nahigian sent out a release declaring the campaign wouldn’t comment further. 

"The unauthorized news release was sent by a person who doesn't even work for the campaign and has never had authority to speak on behalf of the campaign," he said. "We are not responding to comments made by a person who was not even a staff member in New Hampshire. Our focus is on Iowa."

The point of contact on the release is Karen Testerman, an unpaid adviser to the Bachmann campaign, who collaborated on the release with the five outgoing staff-members. The five outgoing staffers are: Chidester, Caroline Gigler, Nicole Yurek, Matt LeDuc, and Tom Lukacz.