DES MOINES, Iowa — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday she's ending her bid for the Republicans presidential nomination after her last-place finish in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses.
"The people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I decided to stand aside," Bachmann said at an emotional news conference, flanked by her family, hours after the caucus results were announced. "I have no regrets, none whatsoever. We never compromised our principles."
The conservative Minnesota congresswoman's decision, widely expected following her dismal Iowa showing, leaves her supporters up for grabs by the other candidates in the race and could be a boost for former Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum narrowly lost the caucuses to front-runner Mitt Romney and is trying to emerge as the clear conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.
Bachmann's decision gives Santorum a clear shot at consolidating the conservative vote heading into the next round of contests, though former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry still draw support from that pool.
Bachmann, 55, had told a small group of supporters Tuesday night that she was staying in the race as the only true conservative who can defeat President Barack Obama.
But hours later, she announced her departure from the race, capping a deep and long slide for a candidate who entered the campaign last summer with very high expectations.
There was great excitement among Republican activists when she began her campaign and she translated that into a solid win in the Iowa straw poll.
But as the campaign moved forward, Bachmann ran into a series of organizational and financial hurdles. She had a big shake-up in her campaign staff, with key backers leaving to join Ron Paul's campaign, and her fundraising trailed virtually all of her rivals. That slide was capped Tuesday night with her sixth-place showing in the leadoff precinct caucuses.
Bachmann did not take questions after her announcement nor did she talk about her future plans, including whether she would endorse another Republican for the presidential nomination or seek re-election to Congress.
"I look forward to the next chapter in God's plan," Bachmann said. "I'm grateful to have been a part of this presidential contest."
Her campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, told The Associated Press, that Bachmann has "no time frame or person" in mind for an endorsement.
She blamed her demise on her straight-shooting, uncompromising approach to the issues. She campaigned as a hard-liner on social issues like abortion and gay rights, as well as arguing for a massive shrinking of the federal government.
"I didn't tell you what the polls said you wanted to hear," Bachmann said.
She made it clear her public career was not over, even as she didn't lay out what direction it would take.
"I'll continue to fight for you, for more liberty and to stop the over-spending in Washington," Bachmann said. "I mean what I say and I say what I mean."
Bachmann said she decided to seek the nomination to stop Obama policies that she argued would be disastrous for the country
"I ran as the next stepping stone to passing on the torch of liberty," Bachmann said. "Make no mistake: I will continue to fight for our country."
Though she's a member of Congress and a force in conservative Republican politics, Bachmann sought to stand above the fray.
"A politician I never have been, nor ever will be," she said.
She said the national health care measure Obama signed into law in 2010 and that Republicans oppose and derisively refer to as "Obamacare" is the signature issue the GOP must take to the electorate.
"My message has been the complete elimination of Obamacare," she said. "It has now become the playground of the left on social engineering. It must be stopped and its repeal is more than a clichÉ. The implementation of Obamacare will represent a turning point."
While not endorsing any candidate, Bachmann said "we should rally around the person" who eventually gets the nomination.
Bachmann made her personal history a core of her campaign, having been born in Waterloo, Iowa, and spending her early years there before moving with her family to Minnesota. She argued that it gave her a special tie to the state, but that didn't translate into backing from activists and the support she needed to place well, or win, the caucuses.
Her evangelical faith was a cornerstone throughout the campaign, as it was during the announcement about her campaign's end.
"My Lord God almighty, this republic is unshakeable," Bachmann said "There is always something around the corner. I have been blessed to live a great life."