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Campaign team walks out on Bachmann

Staff in key state of New Hampshire quit in a huff over 'cruelty' of candidate's inner circle

The star of Michele Bachmann, who wants to ride the energy of the Tea Party all the way to the White House, is dimming quickly – at least in the key state of New Hampshire, where her entire team has resigned in a huff over the "cruel" and "dismissive" way they were being treated by the congresswoman's national campaign team.

While personnel struggles and high-dudgeon walk-outs are hardly uncommon within presidential campaigns, few can remember a candidate being ditched by every one of their hires in a state, particularly one as important as New Hampshire, which holds the first Republican primary on 10 January.

The drama in the Bachmann enclosure is the latest in a series of squalls to ruffle the Republican field. Causing fresh consternation yesterday, at least in the camp of long-time front-runner Mitt Romney, was a New York Times/CBS News poll showing him slipping to second place nationally behind Herman Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive and radio talk show host.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, once seen as the main threat to Mr Romney, was trying last night to claw back some of the attention by unveiling a radical economic plan that would replace the current progressive US tax code with a 20 per cent personal income and corporate flat tax. Mr Perry, who has seen his poll numbers crater since bursting into the race in August, was responding in part to a flat-tax plan offered by Mr Cain that seems popular.

Ms Bachmann is hoping the New Hampshire flap will pass quickly, insisting through her spokesman that she means in any case to focus almost all her early energies on Iowa, which holds a caucus vote on 3 January. But pretending that the rebellion in New Hampshire did not happen was not an option when those leaving her decided to put out a pithy statement explaining why.

"The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team-NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel," they wrote. "But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens." Ms Bachmann has travelled to the so-called Granite State only twice since her announcing her candidacy. The primary season in the state traditionally demands a retail campaign approach which thrusts candidates directly into the midst of voters. Ms Bachmann may feel even less inclined to go back if the citizenry there has any whiff of her not taking them seriously.

In any event, Ms Bachmann now struggles to get out of single figures in national polls and there is speculation that Mr Romney, who by contrast has barely been to Iowa, may yet perform strongly in the caucus there.