DES MOINES, Iowa -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) accused her former Iowa campaign chairman of accepting money to jump ship to support Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on Wednesday, issuing a terse statement within two hours of his announcement.
Kent Sorenson, the Iowa state senator who served in the Bachmann campaign, denied the allegations and said he accepted no money for his endorsement. Sorenson is "leaving his post as Iowa chairman for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign here," according to a statement from the Paul campaign. "The resignation and endorsement take effect immediately."
Sorenson said he did not tell the Bachmann campaign before he announced his endorsement of Paul, and appeared at one of her events earlier on Wednesday. He told HuffPost late Wednesday that his decision was made only 10 minutes before he took the stage at a Paul rally in Des Moines to say he would support Paul instead of Bachmann.
He said he probably would not have supported Bachmann in the first place had Paul been in the race when she first announced her candidacy.
Bachmann's campaign fired back after the announcement, saying it was an attempt to "throw cold water on our growing momentum."
"Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign," Bachmann said in a statement. "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."
Sorenson said he had only one conversation with Bachmann on Wednesday. She said "Hi, Kent," and he replied "Hi, Michele," he recounted.
"If they want to resort to these type of desperate attacks, that's fine," Sorenson said. "I believe that my character stands for itself."
He declined to say whether Bachmann's campaign is in trouble, saying she would have to answer for that. But he said she has no chance of winning in Iowa. He had referred earlier in his statement to the need for conservatives to defeat fellow Republican candidates Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
"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," Sorenson said in his statement.
He later told HuffPost Wednesday, "She is not in the top tier."
"She is not in a position to beat Mitt Romney. We are. ... She is not a direct threat to the Ron Paul campaign, so I have no idea why she would say that."
But he later added, "Bachmann can't win Iowa."
The loss of the Iowa legislator deals a significant blow to Bachmann's campaign. Sorenson is a Tea Party firebrand who was elected to the Iowa state senate in January after only one term in the state legislature. He owns a cleaning company and is father to six children. His decision to support Bachmann earlier this year was a big pickup for the congresswoman from Minnesota.
But Bachmann has steadily fallen in the polls every since winning the Ames Straw Poll in August. Her slide began when Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race and she has never recovered. Sorenson made clear that this was why he was abandoning her for Paul. For Bachmann, it is a damaging blow as she attempts to make her way from the rear of the pack back into contention, with precious little time to do so before Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses.
Sorenson acknowledged that his jumping ship from Bachmann's campaign might reflect badly on him, but attempted to put the blame for that on others.
"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," Sorenson said.
He called his choice to leave Bachmann "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," Sorenson said.
The Bachmann campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated to reflect comments from Kent Sorenson and Rep. Michele Bachmann's response to his endorsement of Rep. Ron Paul.