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Amid bus tour, Bachmann campaign makes pitch to evangelical voters

James Novogrod / NBC News

Tamara Scott and former Iowa state Rep. Danny Carroll, increasingly visible surrogates for Michele Bachmann, speaking at an Ottumwa, Iowa, restaurant Thursday night.

By NBC's James Novogrod

BLOOMFIELD, Iowa -- Michele Bachmann’s 99-county bus tour reached the eight-day mark Friday, and the candidate was losing her voice.  In a whisper she circulated tables at the Oasis Coffee House, greeting voters, autographing yard signs and posing for photos.

While the grueling schedule left Bachmann quieter than usual, a group of surrogates raised the volume this week on a message the campaign hopes will resonate among Iowa’s evangelical voters, in the run-up to the Jan. 3 caucus.

“Do you know that the qualifications for public office are found in the Bible?” asked Danny Carroll, a former state representative, during a visit to a restaurant in Albia on Thursday.

Carroll was citing a passage in Exodus in which Moses is counseled to trust those who "feared God, were capable, and hated dishonest gain."

“I believe that Michele Bachmann fits all of those qualifications,” he added.

Carroll, who has supported Bachmann since the summer, has hosted her at his farm in Grinnell – but had rarely joined her for public events around the state.  His presence, the campaign says, sends a signal to Iowan social conservatives.

“He has a tremendous amount of credibility in that state, and people look to his opinion,” says campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart.

After a 12-year career in the Iowa statehouse, Carroll was chairman of the board of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group that was later spun into the Family Leader, one of Iowa’s most high-profile evangelical groups.

Carroll's message seems designed in part to punch back at the Family Leader's current CEO, Bob Vander Plaats, who earlier this week endorsed one of Bachmann's chief rivals for the evangelical vote: Rick Santorum.

The endorsement directed unwelcome attention on the Bachmann campaign, after Politico reported that Vander Plaats had tried to influence the race more directly, by calling Bachmann to urge her to drop out.

Bachmann acknowledges the call happened, but disputes the account of the discussion.  (A source close to the telephone call tells NBC News that Vander Plaats called to ask that she merge her ticket with Santorum, or with Rick Perry. Bachmann, according to the source, declined.)

Since the endorsement, the Bachmann camp’s pushback has been polite but sharp. 

A second surrogate, Tamara Scott – the Iowa director of a conservative women's group, Concerned Women for America – called out the Family Leader and Santorum by name Thursday, during a stop in Ottumwa.

"The Iowa Family Leader had a series of meetings, and the papers said it was to make sure [Mitt] Romney was not the nominee," Scott said.

"Bob Vander Plaats turned around and endorsed Santorum, who had endorsed Romney in the last election.  I just don’t understand those kinds of politics," Scott said.

In an interview with NBC, Scott stressed that she is not speaking on behalf of Concerned Women for America, and added that Bachmann was the only candidate she felt comfortable endorsing.

“Her integrity is intact,” Scott said.

The effect of the campaign’s effort is unclear so far, but the bus tour itself has seemed to win points in rural counties.  Voters in small restaurants and bakeries often said they appreciated Bachmann’s attention.

“She stands for Iowa,” said caucus-goer Kay Rouch, in Keosauqua, on Wednesday.  “This is where her roots are, her beginnings, and I think that she basically has a real concern for the people in the Midwest.”