WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — In the wake of a bottom-feeder finish in the Iowa GOP caucuses, Michele Bachmann ended a presidential bid Wednesday that once held so much promise in this state.
"Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside," she said at a morning news conference. Bachmann called on Republicans to unify behind the ultimate nominee, but did not say whom she would support.
It was only five months ago, in August, that Bachmann, an Iowa native, captured the Ames Straw Poll, a test of a candidate's strength among influential conservatives in the state and a victory that appeared to establish her as a force to be reckoned with.
But that never came to be _ and in fact, Bachmann's decline was quick and irreversible. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's entrance into the race siphoned media attention and money. A series of uneven debate performances, gaffes, factual errors, and staff defections weakened her standing with voters. And her campaign's decision to try to compete nationally instead of hyper-focusing on Iowa may have broken her bond somewhat with the residents here.
The Minnesota congresswoman watched as various other candidates caught fire and then fizzled: Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich. But she never had her second moment in the sun. And when the time came for the social conservatives so crucial to winning the caucuses here to make their choice, they overwhelmingly sided with Rick Santorum, not her, Tuesday night. Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, ended up receiving just 5 percent of the vote, compared with Santorum's 24 percent. Former Massachusetts Mitt Romney edged out Santorum to win the nonbinding caucuses.
Bachmann's departure leaves the GOP race with a smaller field of Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul _ although Perry was suggesting Wednesday that he may remain in the race after saying the evening before that he would return to Texas and reassess his candidacy. Her decision should come as welcome news to Santorum, who is trying to convince evangelicals and other social conservatives to coalesce around his revived effort.
But Bachmann gave no hint as to whom she would support in the race; she recently criticized Santorum for voting for earmarks while in the Senate.
A "tea party'' favorite who liked to boast about her "titanium spine" and made her opposition to the Democratic health care initiative the center of her campaign, Bachmann now returns to the House, where has a yet to make a decision on whether to run for re-election next year in her central Minnesota district. Reading from a prepared statement, her voice slightly hoarse, Bachmann said, "I have no regrets, none whatsoever. We never compromised our principles."
"I look forward to the next chapter of God's plan," she said.
Bachmann lost her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, in September, as her poll numbers began to crash. Her New Hampshire staff embarrassingly resigned in October, and last week, she suffered another blow when her Iowa point man, state Sen. Kent Sorenson, left her campaign to support Paul.
She became known for a series of misstatements and historical errors, including suggesting the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts, warning about the dangers of the Soviet Union, which hasn't existed for 20 years, contending that a vaccine used to combat human papillomavirus causes mental retardation, and referring to the U.S. Embassy in Iran, which has been closed for more than 30 years.