UPDATE: The lady with the titanium spine bowed to reality Wednesday. It was Iowa that sent the message.
The day after Rep. Michele Bachmann finished last among the six candidates competing in the state’s first in the nation caucuses, the Minnesota Republican and Waterloo native, called it quits, cancelling events in South Carolina and instead delivering the sobering news at a hotel conference room here.
“Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside,” Bachmann said this morning, accompanied by her husband, Marcus, and friends and family.
She said the party needed to unite behind the eventual GOP nominee, but she did not express a preference. And she took no questions from reporters, instead embracing supporters before leaving a conference room where she announced her withdrawal.
It was a stunning fall for the three-term congresswoman who tried to unite conservatives as a bulwark against Mitt Romney and got a supercharged boost out of the Ames Straw Poll just five months ago.
But in the end, it was Rick Santorum who emerged the alternative.
Newt Gingrich, who finished fourth, has vowed to continue and he took out a full page ad in a New Hampshire newspaper criticizing Mitt Romney, the winner of the caucuses.
Romney ended up with 30,015 votes, eight more than Santorum, winning by a tenth of a percentage point. Ron Paul, who was strong with new and younger voters, finished third with 26,219 votes.
All four were headed to New Hampshire on Wednesday — Santorum with a stiff Iowa wind at his back, Gingrich with doubts trailing him — to campaign before the state’s Jan. 10 primary.
The final results of the caucuses weren’t announced until about 1:30 a.m. by Iowa GOP chair Matt Strawn.
The finish was the closest in caucus history.
Santorum’s win, analysts said, was a vindication for the intense Iowa-centric campaign he ran, even as national analysts questioned how the former Pennsyvlania senator can compete in later states with little money and organization.
Bachmann became the story for how far she fell.
With an energetic campaign and a no-holds barred message, she won nearly 29 percent of the votes at the straw poll. But it was all a slide from there on out.
Bachmann won only 6,073 votes Tuesday night, barely 5 percent of the total. It was the biggest fall for an Ames Straw Poll winner since the fundraiser’s inception in 1979. The 24 drop since August is a record for straw poll winners.
Only Jon Huntsman, who didn’t compete in the state, finished lower in Iowa. Even Perry, with 12,604 votes, for fifth place, doubled Bachmann’s total.
Only the night before, Bachmann appeared as if she would keep fighting. She told supporters that she’d go onto South Carolina, and with debates in New Hampshire she appeared to have some platform.
However, it became apparent even in the wee hours those plans might be in doubt.
Bachmann invested a lot in Iowa, emphasizing her roots in Waterloo repeatedly, calling herself an Iowan and claiming common cause and values with with the state’s residents.
At her announcement today, she professed a love and trust of the state and said she’d entered the race with the aim of repealing the new health care law and regulations on the financial industry, and what she said were Democratic policies leading the country into socialism.
She said she would continue to fight those policies.
She was unsparing, too, in her criticism of President Barack Obama, though often it was at odds with the facts.
In the closing days, Bachmann tried to sell the idea that others didn’t bring the purity to the conservative cause — or her strength of purpose in carrying it out. More than once, she proclaimed her “titanium spine” and sought to capture the legacy of Ronald Reaga and Margaret Thatcher.
Her campaign was wounded as Santorum consolidated voters, and she appeared on the wane. And when a top supporter, state Sen. Kent Sorenson, defected to Paul’s campaign in the closing days, some voters saw it as a sign of a sinking candidacy.
Other coverage from the Tuesday Republican caucus: