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Bachmann faced with low turnout 4 days before Iowa caucus

Eric Gay / AP

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn, center, makes a campaign stop Friday at the Black Bear Diner in Sioux City, Iowa.

EARLY, Iowa – During a swing through a conservative pocket of the state Friday, with only four days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, Michele Bachmann visited a local restaurant to discover only a handful of people waiting for her.

Bachmann was accompanied by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the district's congressman and her close friend in Washington.


 

"You actually get your own private presidential candidate and member of Congress," Bachmann told one voter, before sitting with the woman for several minutes over coffee.

In the back of the room, near a wall decorated with several yard signs, a small area between tables had been cleared for a microphone stand, which stood unused. 

The tiny crowd – which, at its height, numbered around 15 people – included two members of the restaurant’s wait staff, and three construction workers on their lunch break.

"We’re just eating lunch, working in the area," said Jim Olson, a worker from Marcus.  He wore a campaign sticker an advance man had given him, and told NBC he planned to support Bachmann in the caucus.

Earlier Friday, at the Black Bear Diner in Sioux City, a similar scene played out, where staff and about 50 patrons were caught off guard during breakfast when Bachmann dropped by, moving table to table and signing autographs.

(Robert Byrne, the restaurant’s general manager, told NBC News he had been given about thirty minutes' notice, though he was "delighted" by the surprise.)

The scenes were a striking departure from Bachmann’s events during her 11-day bus tour of Iowa's 99 counties. That tour, which concluded Thursday, wound its way through several rural counties, and drew crowds of about 100 supporters and curious voters.

Speaking to reporters outside the Crossroads Restaurant here in Early, Bachmann said, of the low turnout, "This was something that was spontaneous, where we just dropped in."

The advisory sent to reporters Thursday evening, however, included the Early and Sioux City events, along with an afternoon event in Fort Dodge.

Reached for comment via telephone, campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart pointed to a change in schedule earlier Thursday after plans to go pheasant hunting with King fell through, and added that in a scramble the campaign had passed a bad schedule to supporters.

"It by no means was an indication that we didn't have support to go see Michele," said Stewart.

"Calls were dropped [to supporters] for the wrong times."

But the stumble came at a bad time for the Bachmann campaign, which is fighting to move past unwelcome attention following the defection of its Iowa Campaign Chairman, State Sen. Kent Sorenson, to the Ron Paul campaign – and a new NBC/Marist poll that puts Bachmann last in the field in Iowa, at 6%.

Bachmann got a bit of friendly support from her colleague, King, who told reporters that Bachmann was "his great friend," though he stopped short of giving her an endorsement coveted by a number of Bachmann’s GOP competitors.

"I have not made a commitment on this presidential race, but I’ve made a commitment to this great friend," King said.