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Key aide leaves Bachmann for Perry in mass exodus of N.H. campaign staff

Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Oct. 20, 2011. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The entire paid New Hampshire staff for Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has resigned, in another blow to the Minnesota congresswoman's foundering campaign.

Jeff Chidester, Bachmann's former New Hampshire campaign director, confirmed the mass exodus. "The New Hampshire team has quit," he said. "We'll issue a joint statement as to our reasons why."

Chidester's confirmation, made via email and voice mail to National Journal and CBS, followed a confusing day in which Bachmann insisted that reports of the staff departures were untrue. But Chidester said he left last week and informed "people that are closest to Michele."

"I'm sorry the national team is confused," he said. "They shouldn't be."

One of the aides who quit, Caroline Gilger, Bachmann's southern state field director, is joining the rival campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, a total of four staffers have left: Chidester, Gilger, Tom Lukacz and Nicole Yurek. Uncertain was the future of staff member Matt LeDuc.

Chidester is a longtime Bachmann friend and supporter and a well-known radio talk show host. Reached by email on Friday, Chidester told CBS/NJ that the staff will be issuing a joint statement. "We are more than a team, we have all bonded over the past few months," Chidester wrote. "This is one of the finest group of people I have every had the pleasure of working with. Each one of them is smart, dedicated, and committed to each other. We have not had an opportunity to talk to each other since the story broke, but once we do, we will release a joint statement."

In an interview with Radio Iowa, Bachmann expressed incredulity over news of the resignations, first reported by New Hampshire television station WMUR. "That is a shocking story to me," she said. "I don't know where that came from. We have called staff in New Hampshire to find out where that came from and the staff have said that isn't true, so I don't know if this is just a bad story that's being fed by a different candidate or campaign. I have no idea where this came from, but we've made calls and it's certainly not true."

However, Chidester told CBS/NJ in an email that he resigned last week. "That information was conveyed to the people that are closest to Michele," Chidester wrote. "If that information was not shared, that is unfortunate."

The mass departure is another serious blow to Bachmann's campaign, in steady decline since she won the Iowa straw poll in August. Perry's entry into the race in mid-August seriously cut into Bachmann's conservative base of support, and she was hurt further by statements she made that proved to be misleading or inaccurate.

Bachmann has focused almost all of her energy and resources on winning Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus, which is dominated by religious and social conservatives friendly to Bachmann. But no candidate has a realistic hope of securing the nomination without a broader strategy reaching into other states, and Bachmann's sluggish fundraising may prohibit her from becoming competitive outside Iowa.

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