Drama: Bachmann's Iowa chairman endorses Ron Paul -- three hours after appearing at an event for her; Update: Sorenson told us Paul offered him a "large sum," says Team Bachmann; Update: Sorenson, Paul camp deny

Dave Weigel snarks, “This changes everything. Instead of having to drop out on January 4, Bachmann will have to drop out on January 4.”

The official statement from now-former Bachmann chair Kent Sorenson:

[T]he fact is, 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.

The truth is, it was an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to decide between supporting Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the beginning of this campaign. Dr. Paul and his supporters were a major help in my successful campaigns for Iowa House and Senate even when I couldn’t count on the support of the Republican establishment here in Iowa…

He’s also consistently spoken out against government spending, assaults on individual liberties, and unnecessary trillion-dollar military adventurism for over 30 years. Polls show he is the Republican candidate that can take on and defeat President Obama in November 2012

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.

Follow the link for further thoughts about “the ruling class.” How sudden is this? Well, according to WaPo’s Dan Balz, Sorenson was at a Bachmann event just three hours before he suddenly appeared onstage at a Paul event to endorse him and say, “I thought it was my duty to come to his aid, just like he came to my aid during my Senate race, which was a very nasty race.” Maybe he and Bachmann had some huge blow-up this afternoon that forced him to quit the campaign in a huff? Or … maybe he saw that CNN poll, realized that Santorum is likely to top her next Tuesday as the anointed social-con candidate, and figured he might as well bail out now and join the likely winner. It makes perfect sense for an incumbent state senator to want to ingratiate himself with Paul and his supporters: Paul and Romney have the best Iowa organizations by far, but unlike Mitt’s machine, Paul’s is likely to survive this campaign in some form so that Rand Paul has people in place for whenever he decides to finally run. Sorenson wants them available for his next run for office too.

I don’t know Iowa politics well enough to know how important his endorsement is — he’s known for, among other things, introducing a bill to require evidence of a legal birth certificate for presidential candidates — but the bad press Bachmann will get from the un-endorsement will be withering. Will other staffers abandon ship tomorrow or Friday? Reportedly evangelical leaders are still pressing her to drop out and endorse Santorum in order to unite Christian conservatives, but simply as a point of pride, I can’t believe she’d do it. A sad end.

Update: Here’s Sorenson at Paul’s rally, via Mediaite:

Update: Can you feel his pain?

“The decision I am making today is one of the most difficult I have made in my life,” Mr. Sorenson said in a statement. “But given what’s at stake for our country, I have decided I must take this action.”

Mr. Sorenson said he was “saddened at the dismissive way she’s been treated among some conservatives,” but he said that it had become clear Mrs. Bachmann was no longer a viable contender.

He also told Politico that his goal is to try to take Romney out in Iowa, which explains why he endorsed … the one guy besides himself whom Romney would most like to see win Iowa. Hello?

Update: Cloak and dagger somehow turns even more cloak and dagger-y:

Bachmann statement: “Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign.”

More from NBC:

Bachmann says Sorenson told her yesterday: ‘everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn’t I?’

A bombshell if true, but … is it true? Ace is pointing out on Twitter that Team Bachmann has accused people of being on the take before.

Update: Erick Erickson challenges the CW: Could Sorenson’s betrayal produce a sympathy vote for Bachmann?

Update: The Paul camp denies that any money changed hands, as does Sorenson. Quote: “Let’s be frank, if she was going neck-and-neck with Romney, I’d still be with her.” I believe them. Why would Ron Paul need to throw a bunch of money to peel off a staffer from a second-tier campaign? If anything, by potentially sinking Bachmann’s campaign, Sorenson’s defection might force evangelicals to line up behind Santorum and make Paul’s task harder. It’s a big loss for her but really not such a big get for Paul.

Update (Ed): I’m curious to how a payoff would work, anyway. Disbursements of campaign funds have to be disclosed — and oh, by the way, the quarter ends on Saturday, so the disclosure would be nearly immediate (although after the caucus). Even if this accusation were true, Sorenson would be exposed within a week or two at the most as a sell-out, and for what? The momentary pleasure of switching to another losing cause? That’s pretty far-fetched.