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Bachmann's Iowa co-chairman bolts to back Paul

Updated at 10:12 p.m.

One of the most prominent Iowa supporters of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign jumped ship late Wednesday, announcing just days before the state's Jan. 3 caucus that he would instead back Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, one of three Iowa co-chairmen for Bachmann's campaign, made an appearance at a Veterans for Ron Paul event this evening where he endorsed the Texas congressman in Tuesday's caucuses.

Sorenson, in a statement distributed by Paul's campaign, said he had "an immense amount of respect" for Bachmann, but had essentially judged her to have fallen out of contention in the caucuses.

"I believe we have a clear choice here in Iowa and, I believe, across the country," he told NBC News in an interview after the event.
"All the recent polling is showing that Ron is in a neck and neck race with Mitt Romney.  I believe that we have a real opportunity to elect a constitutional conservative."

Sorenson further characterized his decision as a "spur-of-the-moment" one.

Bachmann accused Sorenson of being a sell-out in a statement released Wednesday evening.

"Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign," she said, accusing Paul of trying to stymie her campaign's momentum. "Kent said to me yesterday that 'everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn't I,' then he told me he would stay with our campaign. The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions."

In a follow-up interview, Sorenson categorically denied having received any offer of compensation by Paul's campaign.

"Listen, that's absurd. Like I said before, people on this campaign supported me in my race. They worked tirelessly for me. They stuffed envelopes, they door knocked for me," he said. "I feel like I'm coming home to them."

While he hasn't been particularly busy on the campaign trail for the Minnesota congresswoman, Sorenson was missing from a Bachmann campaign stop this afternoon in Osceola, Iowa; he told NBC News at a subsequent event in Indianola that he hadn't been on the Bachmann trail earlier today because he was having a root canal. Both events preceded his appearance this evening with Paul.

The defection carries a degree of symbolic importance, however. Sorenson was one of the first people to join the Bachmann campaign outside of her DC and Minnesota staff. In fact, even before Bachmann made the final decision to get in the race, he was urging her to run. Sorenson was also involved when Bachmann's closest political advisers from Minnesota and D.C. bolted the campaign, saying they disagreed on Iowa strategy.

The news came after a new CNN/TIME poll released Wednesday showed Bachmann in last place, at nine percent among Republican likely caucus-goers, among Republicans actively competing in the Jan. 3 contest. Paul, by contrast, trailed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by just three points -- good enough for second place, and within the poll's margin of error.