Less than a week before her political fate is decided in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann is locked in a nasty fight with a former aide over the circumstances of his surprise departure from her campaign this week -- a dispute that has knocked her off message when she's trying to look her most presidential.
The tension escalated sharply Thursday, a day after Bachmann accused state Sen. Kent Sorenson, her former Iowa chairman, of endorsing Ron Paul because the Texas congressman offered him money. In a statement released Thursday, Sorenson called the accusation "ridiculous" and shot back that Bachmann was simply being desperate.
"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," he said.
Sorenson unexpectedly showed up at a Paul event Wednesday night to endorse the libertarian-leaning candidate, touching off a flurry of accusations from Bachmann and her campaign about his motives.
In another bizarre twist, Bachmann's Iowa political director, Wes Enos, is also now no longer working for the candidate, her campaign confirmed to National Journal/CBS News. Enos on Wednesday, apparently off message, said Sorenson's departure had nothing to do with money. A campaign spokeswoman would not say why Enos was no longer working for Bachmann.
The Minnesota congresswoman didn't back off from her allegation during an interview with CNN. Sorenson told her and others he made the move because of money, she said, and is lying when he denies it now. Bachmann said Paul offered him money because he's "nervous" that his campaign's support is dwindling among Iowa voters.
"They understood not only was Ron Paul dangerous when it came to foreign policy, but they are understanding that Ron Paul would be willing to legalize drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and Iowans don't want that," she said. "They also understand Ron Paul won't stand up federally to protect marriage between one man and one woman. That doesn't reflect the views of the Iowans that are coming to this caucus season, and I believe that is why we see the aggressive action on the part of the Ron Paul campaign."
Recent polls don't agree with Bachmann: A CNN/Time/ORC survey released Wednesday reported Paul stood at 22 percent in the state, just three points behind front-running Mitt Romney and more than double Bachmann. To buffer her support, Bachmann is set to being airing TV ads in the Hawkeye State starting New Year's Day, according to The New York Times.
National Journal's Alex Roarty contributed