By Mark Zdechlik, MPR News
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann on Wednesday pledged not to disappear from the nation's political battlegrounds following her unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
But Bachmann, who ended her presidential campaign after a dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses, said nothing about her plans now that she is out of the race. Instead, she vowed to continue to fight against President Obama and the federal health care law passed by Congress.
"The people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside," Bachmann said Wednesday morning in a suburban Des Moines hotel ballroom. "I believe that if we are going to repeal ObamaCare, turn our country around and take back our country, we must do so united."
Bachmann finished with 5 percent of the vote, last among the six Republican candidates competing in the Iowa caucuses. Despite her disappointing finish, she has political options, including a bid for re-election to her 6th District seat, a challenge to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and a run for governor.
WEST DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 04: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks during a news conference after ending her campaign for Republican presidential candidate on January 4, 2012 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Bachmann ended her campaign after poor results in the 2012 Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
In ending her campaign, Bachmann sharply criticized the president, as she has for months on the campaign trail and prior to that as a member of Congress. Always a popular guest on conservative radio and cable television shows, Bachmann promised not to fade into the background.
"Make no mistake, I will continue to be a strong voice," she said. "I will continue to stand and fight for the country and for the American people."
Bachmann entered the race nearly seven months ago with a surprise announcement during the first major GOP debate. Almost immediately she rose to the top of polls, both in Iowa and nationally. In August she won the first contest of the race, the non-binding Ames Straw Poll. Her victory effectively knocked a fellow Minnesotan, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, out of the race.
But on the day of that victory, Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his campaign. Bachmann's poll numbers began to drop and never again came close to her early summer surge. Many of the other candidates in the race, including Perry, had similar short-lived leads in the polls.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said even though Bachmann's campaign was unsuccessful, in some ways she beat expectations.
"Certainly she wasn't seen as the equivalent of Tim Pawlenty and yet she's knocked Pawlenty out of the race," Sabato said. "That may be her accomplishment for the 2012 presidential campaign."
More than once during her campaign Bachmann drew criticism for misstatements. On her first trip to New Hampshire she erroneously stated that the first shots of the revolutionary war were fired there, rather than in Massachusetts. She said her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa, was also the birth place of movie star John Wayne, who was born in another Iowa town. The serial killer John Wayne Gacy once lived in Waterloo.
After one debate Bachmann went too far with criticism of Perry, saying vaccines had been linked to mental retardation, a claim medical experts debunked.
The gaffes were damaging.
Former Minnesota Republican Party chairman and Bachmann chief of staff Ron Carey spoke out against Bachmann's presidential run, saying she wasn't ready for the office.
But now Carey says he thinks Bachmann could run for president again and build on a first effort that boosted her stature.
"I would anticipate that in 2016 she could be right back at it again but with more seasoning," Carey said. "You see Mitt Romney having a lot of built in advantages this cycle because of the name ID he created in 2008. So I think at the least, Michele's run 2012 will set her up to be a potential candidate in 2016, 2020."
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier disagrees. He said Bachmann's time on the national stage has come and gone.
"I think Michele Bachmann sort of disappears as a major figure in American Republican national politics," Schier said. "She had a big opportunity in Iowa. She was not able to take advantage of it and so she'll probably end up speaking at the national convention but all of her practical political ambitions regarding election, really come back to Minnesota again."
Former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman endorsed Mitt Romney in the presidential race, but he said Bachmann's political future in Minnesota is bright.
"I don't know if anybody could beat Rep. Bachmann in a primary if she would choose to run for a statewide office," Coleman said. "I would not look forward to running in a primary against Michele Bachmann."
A statewide general election would be different from a statewide Republican primary, however, and Democrats contend Bachmann could not win across Minnesota.
State DFL Party chairman Ken Martin said Bachmann's run for president has done permanent damage to her future if she tries to run statewide -- or seeks re-election to Congress.
"In this instance you have a candidate who's just completely ignored her constituents to run for president, and you know, is it a double standard? Some of the others are doing the same thing, but we're here talking about Michele Bachmann," Martin said. "At the end of the day she's put her presidential ambitions ahead of the people she's paid to serve and to me that's going to come home to roost when she decides to run for reelection, not only next year but in the future."