Bachmann tells supporters she's staying in raceby Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — After placing first in the Iowa Straw Poll less than five months ago, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann finished last Tuesday among the candidates actively campaigning in the Iowa caucuses.
Only Jon Huntsman polled lower than the congresswoman.
With only 5 percent of the vote, Bachmann nevertheless sounded upbeat at her post-caucus party at the West Des Moines Marriott, pledging to continue on to South Carolina Wednesday.
What America needs is a "fearless conservative" in the White House, Bachmann said.
"I believe that I am that true conservative who can and will beat Barack Obama," she said to loud applause.
Late Tuesday night, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were in a tie for first place in Iowa caucuses, each with roughly 26 percent of the vote. Romney has long been considered a front-runner, but Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, experienced an unexpected surge in the polls this week.
Bachmann's result ends a long campaign for the Minnesota Republican in the state where she was born. For the last few months, Bachmann has toured the state, won endorsements from religious leaders and local politicians, visited every county and put 6,206 miles on her bus.
But despite her strong effort in Iowa, Bachmann's campaign here never caught on.
Many Iowa voters here said they liked Bachmann for her passion and independence. But those who were weighing her against other candidates cited concerns about her lack of governing experience, her sparse legislative record and her viability as a challenger to President Barack Obama.
Bachmann's campaign suffered a serious blow in the middle of her final push in Iowa when her state chair, Sen. Kent Sorenson, abruptly left her campaign for Ron Paul's.
Santorum's rise also complicated Bachmann's prospects. While the results of the caucus are still being sorted out, it's likely he siphoned votes from Bachmann's base of social conservatives.
Iowa State Sen. Brad Zaun, who has stumped with Bachmann all week, said he was disappointed with the results given the amount of work Bachmann and her staffers put into the campaign.
He traced Bachmann's poor showing to a number of factors, including the loss of Sorenson and Santorum's surge in the polls.
But he also pointed out that Texas Gov. Rick Perry stole Bachmann's thunder by announcing his bid for president the same day as the Iowa Straw Poll.
"That should have been the limelight for our campaign," he said. "There's no one that worked any harder."
Perry himself had a disappointing finish Tuesday night, but he still outpolled Bachmann with 10 percent. He said he would return to Texas to re-evaluate his campaign.
Bachmann's former campaign manager Ed Rollins warned that Bachmann could go into debt if she continues her run. He attributed her poor finish to her relative inexperience.
"There's always a stature gap for members of Congress who try to step up," he told Fox News Tuesday night. "It's hard to go from the House to be treated as a serious presidential candidate."
Bachmann says she's hitting the road for South Carolina Wednesday. She has stops planned in the northern part of the state, where Christian conservatives dominate the Republican base. South Carolina holds its presidential primary on Jan. 21.
Despite the friendly voters, South Carolina politicos say Bachmann's campaign will suffer from her poor finish in Iowa. She'll have trouble convincing voters there she is a viable candidate.
Debora Blume is among the faithful who caucused for Bachmann Tuesday night. At her post-caucus party, Blume said Bachmann should continue to fight to the bitter end.
"She's a fiscal hawk, she's a hard worker, and I think she should just stay in it as long as she can to see what will happen," she said.