ATLANTIC, Iowa --Anyone who doubts Michele Bachmann's talents as a hands-on politician didn't see her performance here Monday. In an otherwise unremarkable town hall meeting, Bachmann turned a potentially embarrassing encounter with a grouchy voter into an opportunity to win the most treasured political commodity in Iowa these days: a vote in Saturday's Republican straw poll.
Arriving at the Cass County Community Center in her big blue bus with speakers blaring Elvis Presley's "Promised Land," Bachmann delivered a high-energy speech focusing mostly on federal spending and rising government debt. The crowd was small -- maybe 75 in all -- and quite friendly. After a few minutes, Bachmann opened the floor to questions.
One man asked about business regulation. (Bachmann told him she would propose "the mother of all repeal bills" to eliminate big chunks of government red tape.) Another asked if she had seen the unflattering photo of herself on the cover of the latest Newsweek. (She said she hadn't.) Then Bachmann announced she would take one last question, and an aide passed the microphone to Don Hoover, a retired technician from Atlantic.
It turned out that Hoover, who had not decided whom to support in the GOP race, had not come to query Bachmann on the issues but to complain that he had received five automated calls from her campaign in the past week. He was on a no-call list, Hoover said, and he wondered whether Bachmann might be violating an Iowa law against junk calls. What was particularly irritating was that each call was the same, urging Hoover to vote for Bachmann at the straw poll, which will take place 115 miles away in Ames.
"I don't know if I have the time, I don't know if I have the money to go there," Hoover said to Bachmann. "Why all the five calls?"
The moment threatened to put a downbeat ending on what had been a decidedly upbeat gathering. Bachmann appeared a little taken aback, assuring Hoover that she obeyed Iowa law. An aide said the campaign would be happy to take his name off the call list.
Then Bachmann seemed to catch herself. She walked over to Hoover, leaned down, locked her eyes onto his, shook his hand and didn't let go for the longest time. "I thank you, and I would ask you to come to Ames on August 13, this Saturday, and I'll tell you why," she began.
"I want you to come, and I want you to give me your vote because we have got to turn the country around," Bachmann said. "You get to choose. There are people all across the United States who wish they were in your shoes. People wish they were an Iowan because you get to make that down payment on Saturday for taking the country back."
Bachmann was still holding Hoover's hand and looking straight into his eyes; at that moment, every ounce of her considerable energy was devoted to making this one particular sale. "I'm 100 percent pro-life, I'm 100 percent pro-marriage, pro-family, I'm 100 percent on the Second Amendment," she told Hoover. "Let's get 'er done right now, let's make a decision right now. What do I need to do to convince you?"
Hoover still wouldn't commit. But a few minutes later, after the rally ended and the blue bus pulled away, he was sold. He would "very likely" go to Ames, he said, and he would vote for Michele Bachmann.
"The things that she told me, personally standing there with her, that she was pro-life, and Second Amendment, and cutting spending -- all of this I believe," Hoover said. "She looked me in the eye, held my hand and told me, 'This is what I believe.' "
If the rally did nothing else, it proved that one man, all by his lonesome, didn't stand a chance when faced with the Full Bachmann.
Just to make sure there were no lingering doubts, a Bachmann aide quickly showed up at Hoover's side to give him tickets to Saturday's events and say the campaign would be in touch to arrange transportation to Ames. The deal was sealed.
Fellow politicians used to say of Bill Clinton that he would not be happy unless he had won over every doubter in a room. Sometimes he would devote an inordinate amount of time to the effort. Bachmann was a little like that in Atlantic on Monday. Most analyses of her success focus on her Tea Party politics and strong views. But there's another reason she's moving up in the polls here. She's good.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.