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Rep. Michele Bachmann could enter the presidential race with considerable buzz, but it’s unclear whether the Minnesota Republican can assemble a stable campaign team capable of guiding her to victory in the crucial primary battlegrounds.
Bachmann has had difficulty holding on to senior Congressional and campaign staff during her four and a half years on Capitol Hill, a problem that could easily persist in the pressure cooker of a White House bid. However, Bachmann’s inner circle of political advisers has remained constant — a fact often overshadowed by her Congressional staff turnover — and she does boast close relationships with Republican operatives who have presidential campaign experience.
Bachmann’s most trusted advisers include media strategist Ed Brookover; Chief of Staff Andy Parrish, a former campaign aide; fundraising consultant Guy Short; and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, a marriage and family therapist. None are heavy on national experience or deeply connected in Iowa, where the Congresswoman is viewed as potentially strong. A top finish in the caucuses would presumably catapult her into contention in the states that follow. But Bachmann’s extended core of advisers are more seasoned.
They include Internet consultant Becki Donatelli, who advised Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) two presidential bids and did work for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign; political consultant Bob Heckman, a McCain campaign veteran who advised four previous GOP presidential candidates; and Tom McGill, who handles major donor fundraising for Bachmann. McGill previously assisted in the presidential bids of Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as campaigns for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).
“When she has quality help, they stick around,” a Bachmann senior adviser said. The adviser added that the issue of staff turnover was “never felt as bad as it sounded.”
Now in her third term, Bachmann has gone though five chiefs of staff, about five press secretaries, two district directors and five legislative assistants since entering Congress, in addition to hiring and then losing other staff on both the official and campaign sides of her operation. Some senior staff members lasted only days before departing; others lasted for a year or more.
Sources familiar with the working environment in Bachmann’s Congressional and campaign operations said she treats staff members well and is pleasant to work for but that her sometimes unpredictable behavior and unwillingness — or inability — to stick to an agreed-upon plan or strategy leaves senior staff frustrated and feeling as though their counsel isn’t trusted.
Bachmann’s Congressional office did not comment by press time.
The influence of Bachmann’s husband on the Congresswoman has at times left staff feeling undermined and is another reason cited for the turnover. “She displays erratic behavior, and her staff bears the brunt,” a Republican source said. “It’s important to remember that her husband plays a big role.”