Talk about your last-minute bombshells: Representative Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair, State Senator Kent Sorenson, just endorsed Representative Ron Paul in Des Moines this evening. Background on Sorenson’s connections to prominent Paul supporters is after the jump.
Changing your mind is one thing, especially if your first choice for president turns out not to be viable, but it’s a special brand of betrayal to abandon the candidate whose campaign you promised to chair. Six days before the Iowa caucuses!
Sorenson has shown an anti-establishment streak before. He was one of the most vocal supporters of Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and even pledged not to vote for Terry Branstad, should Branstad become the GOP nominee against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. (Sorenson backtracked on that vow.) But he’s not coordinating with Vander Plaats now, or he would have left Bachmann for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
Sorenson is considered a close ally of some Iowa House members who endorsed Paul months ago, in particular Kim Pearson and Glen Massie. Massie won Sorenson’s old House seat in Warren County in 2010, when Sorenson chose to run for the state Senate instead. According to the Des Moines rumor mill, Sorenson and Pearson are among a group of conservatives considering creating a new anti-choice organization, which would take a harder line than Iowa Right to Life. Sorenson led the (unsuccessful) charge to force a vote on a late-term abortion ban in the Iowa Senate this year. First-term State Representative Pearson annoyed Republican leaders in the Iowa House by making her colleagues go on record supporting or opposing a vote on “personhood” legislation.
Sorenson, Massie, and Pearson all called for impeaching the Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. Sorenson and another Iowa House member backing Paul, Jason Schultz, jointly introduced a state constitutional amendment to bring back Iowa Supreme Court elections during the 2010 legislative session.
Drew Ivers, the state director for Campaign for Liberty and Paul’s Iowa chairman, strongly endorsed Sorenson as a “true Constitutional Conservative” in his 2010 Senate race. Ivers is also one of five Iowa GOP State Central Committee members who are backing Paul’s presidential campaign. UPDATE: Another State Central Committee member for Paul, A.J. Spiker, “has donated to Sorenson’s campaigns and also walked in every one of Sorenson’s parades,” Craig Robinson wrote at The Iowa Republican blog.
I will update this post with more details on Sorenson’s reasons for jumping on the Paul bandwagon. Whatever his explanation, there’s no way to view this news as anything but a disaster for Bachmann.
Speaking of untimely defections, a super-PAC that had endorsed Bachmann after her Ames straw poll victory is spending almost a half a million dollars on Iowa television commercials supporting Mitt Romney.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: Mary Stegmeir reports for the Des Moines Register:
Sorenson, a state senator from Indianola, announced the surprise endorsement from the stage of a Paul event at the the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The turnabout is a major surprise with just six days remaining before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Sorenson, in fact, appeared at a Bachmann event just this afternoon – a stop at the Pizza Ranch in his hometown of Indianola.
Sorenson said little at the event, but appeared with Bachmann and clearly offered indications of support for her candidacy.
Fellow Bachmann campaign co-chairman Brad Zaun told reporters Sorenson had just returned from the dentist, and Sorenson himself said he was saying little because he was still numb and afraid he would drool on himself.
Here’s the full written statement from Sorenson:
The decision I am making today is one of the most difficult I have made in my life. But given what’s at stake for our country, I have decided I must take this action.
Today, I am switching my support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul for the 2012 Iowa Caucuses and the presidency of the United States.
I still maintain an immense amount of respect for Michele. The reasons are many. She’s never betrayed conservatives on issues like taxes, the Right to Life, and the Second Amendment. So over the past few months, I have been saddened at the dismissive way she’s been treated among some conservatives especially after winning the Iowa Straw Poll.
But the fact is, there is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for President, both here in Iowa and nationally. Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group.
The truth is, it was an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to decide between supporting Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the beginning of this campaign. Dr. Paul and his supporters were a major help in my successful campaigns for Iowa House and Senate even when I couldn’t count on the support of the Republican establishment here in Iowa.
Of course, battling the establishment is nothing new for Dr. Paul or for myself. During my time in the General Assembly, I’ve established myself as a leader in the fights for traditional marriage, the Right to Life, and the protection of the Second Amendment – sometimes even against the wishes of my own party.
Since my election, I’ve learned that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. It’s easy to see why so many legislators “sell out” once elected. The pressure to do so is immense.
But what America needs now is a President who will not just “go along to get along.” Instead, we must send someone who puts doing what is right above all else to the White House. That candidate is Ron Paul.
Ron Paul is the only candidate to predict the current mess we find ourselves in economically, and he’s the only candidate to offer a true plan to cut spending and balance our budget.
He’s also consistently spoken out against government spending, assaults on individual liberties, and unnecessary trillion-dollar military adventurism for over 30 years. Polls show he is the Republican candidate that can take on and defeat President Obama in November 2012.
Like all true conservatives, I wholeheartedly agree with Ron Paul that government is too big, and both parties share in the blame. We agree that it is immoral to print money and pass on mounds of debt to the next generation. We agree that life begins at conception and must be protected. We both believe that the Second Amendment must be defended unwaveringly, and that there are too many wars being fought with no end in sight and no obvious path to a defined victory.
Of course, as a state legislator, I recognize that Dr. Paul’s strong views on the 10th Amendment will enable me to fight for what I believe in right in my own backyard instead of having to constantly wait on one-size-fits-all “solutions” from Washington, D.C.
With the entire Republican establishment intent on smearing Ron Paul and his dedicated supporters, I understand this decision could impact the way people see me and my entire political career. But this is the right decision, and one in which I proudly stand behind.
To the truly wonderful people I met on the Bachmann campaign, I look forward to working with them in the future as we further the fights for the Right to Life, traditional marriage, and the restoration of our Second Amendment rights here in Iowa. I personally wish her all the best as she continues to battle in Congress.
As for conservatives who are rightly concerned with defeating establishment Republicans Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and – even more importantly – Barack Obama in 2012, Ron Paul has established himself as the clear choice.
If you are as frustrated as I am with what’s been done by the ruling class, I urge you to join me in supporting Dr. Paul. We can send the national big government political establishment a message they will never forget by voting for Ron Paul for President in the January 3 Iowa Caucuses.
SECOND UPDATE: Oh wow. Bachmann said in a statement, “Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign.”
Sorenson told Jonathan Martin that he called Bachmann en route to the Paul event at the fairgrounds.
Sorenson explained that Paul had campaigned for him in his state senate bid and that he had stayed in touch with the congressman’s local supporters even after signing up with Bachmann.
Those conversations intensified in the last few days, according to both Sorenson and Paul campaign chief Jesse Benton, but the Iowan said Paul’s team didn’t know until he showed up at the event that he had firmly decided to switch.
Benton, in a seperate interview, said he couldn’t recall who made the first call but that it was clear two days ago that Sorenson was inclined to switch.
“He said he wanted to pray on it, talk to his wife about it,” said Benton.
THIRD UPDATE: Bachmann read this statement out to journalists at a Wednesday evening press conference:
“It’s clear that this was a deliberate move by the Ron Paul campaign to discredit our campaign and our growing momentum. Ron Paul is in trouble in Iowa and his campaign is worried about people learning about his dangerous stance on foreign policy and how he will make America less safe.
“Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign. Kent campaigned with us earlier this afternoon and went immediately afterward to a Ron Paul event and announced he is changing teams. 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.
“We are almost through with our 99 county tour and have seen overwhelming support all across Iowa. This is clearly an effort on the part of the Paul campaign to throw cold water on our growing momentum.
“We are thrilled to announce that State Senator Brad Zaun is now Iowa Chairman of our campaign. He has tremendous respect across the state and he has worked tirelessly for our campaign. I am proud to have him as our State Chairman.”
FOURTH UPDATE: Bachmann’s Iowa political director Wes Enos, who also serves on the Iowa GOP State Central Committee, defended Sorenson in a statement the Paul campaign released:
“I won’t say much about the situation or the conflicting statements beyond this; I can say unequivocally that Kent Sorenson’s decision was, in no way financially motivated.
“His decision had more to do with the fact that the Ron Paul supporters have been something of a family to him since he was first elected in 2008 and here in the end, as it becomes more and more apparent that the caucus cycle is coming to an end, Kent believed that he needed to be with them as they stand on the cusp of a potential caucus upset.
“While I personally disagree with Kent’s decision, and plan to stay with Michele Bachmann because I truly believe in her, I cannot, in good conscious watch a good man like Kent Sorenson be attacked as a ‘sell-out’ ….That is simply not the case, and it was not the basis of his decision,” said Mr. Enos.
Bachmann’s Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson, told WHO’s Dave Price that Enos is no longer with the campaign. I doubt Enos will regret what he just did. Bachmann will be gone after Tuesday night, but Sorenson will be a factor in Iowa Republican politics for a long time. Enos has run for office twice before, losing to Democrat Tom Hockensmith for Polk County supervisor (third district) in 2006 and losing a GOP primary for a state Senate seat in 2010. Sorenson will be a valuable ally if Enos aspires to be a candidate again.
Woolson claims Sorenson told him that he was offered $30,000 up front and $8,000 per month to switch campaigns.
FINAL UPDATE: Susan Geddes, who managed Sorenson’s state legislative campaigns in 2008 and 2010, has said he told her he had been offered money from Paul’s campaign. However, Sorenson vehemently denied those allegations in this statement KCCI published on December 29:
“I have to say, I’ve been saddened by the way Congresswoman Bachmann’s campaign has decided to handle my decision to endorse Ron Paul for President of the United States.
“Like many folks here in Iowa and throughout the country, I simply came to the realization that Ron Paul is the candidate for true pro-life, pro-gun, pro-limited government conservatives.
“The recent smears from the media and the national political establishment motivated me to rush to Congressman Paul’s aid because he did the same for me in both of my races for the Iowa General Assembly.
“As for the ridiculous allegations that Congresswoman Bachmann and her surrogates have made, I was never offered money from the Ron Paul campaign or anyone associated with them and certainly would never accept any.
“Financial reports come out in just days which will prove what I’m saying is true.
“Even Congresswoman Bachmann’s political director issued a statement defending my character. Since then, he’s been fired by the Bachmann campaign for daring to tell the truth.
“Sadly, the values I most appreciated in Congresswoman Bachmann appear to have gone out the window in a last-minute effort to salvage what’s left of her campaign.
“On the other hand, Congressman Ron Paul’s track record of standing up for constitutional principles and traditional values is unmatched.
“He’s proven he is the one candidate who can take on defeat both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.”