WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota ended her presidential bid Wednesday, a day after voters in Iowa, the state in which she was born, left her in sixth place — last of all the major Republican candidates who competed there.
"Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside," Mrs. Bachmann said at a morning press conference.
"I have no regrets. None whatsoever," she added, promising to continue to fight against the Democrats' health care law.
Iowa has a history of helping to narrow the presidential field, and at first it looked as though Mrs. Bachmann may not be the only one it winnowed out. Texas Gov. Rick Perry initially said he was canceling a planned trip to South Carolina and returning to Texas to rethink his bid after a fifth-place showing. But on Wednesday morning, he surprised many by deciding to remain in the race, at least for now.
"And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. ... Here we come, South Carolina!!!" Mr. Perry tweeted, complete with a photo of himself dressed in workout gear and giving the thumbs-up sign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Iowa win by the narrowest of margins had some political observers questioning his appeal and noting the fact that he collected slightly fewer votes than he won here in 2008 - 30,015 compared with 30,021 four years ago. But his supporters say he never intended to compete aggressively in Iowa, so his victory, however slim, far exceeds expectations.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum's come-from-behind second-place finish was the real news out of Iowa. He finished on Tuesday with 30,007 votes, just eight fewer than Mr. Romney. This was the Pennsylvanian's first go at trying to win the GOP's nomination, and he skyrocketed to the top among social-conservative voters, the dominant political force in Iowa.
Sarah Bowman, the former co-chairman of the Polk County Republican Party, spoke in favor of Mr. Santorum at a caucus near West Des Moines. She said she made up her mind just a few weeks before, after months of watching Mr. Santorum crisscross the state with more than 350 appearances in Iowa, in all 99 counties in the state.
"We don't have to settle. We have the duty to lead," she told the crowd Tuesday night. "We have the special opportunity to catapult a true conservative warrior to the top of the polls and send a message to the media and the rest of the political establishment that Iowa cannot be bought, but must be earned."
Third-place finisher Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who like Mr. Romney, competed here in 2008, won 26,214 votes this year — more than doubling his showing from the last time, when he placed fifth and won 11,841 votes. An entrance poll taken by the major television networks and the Associated Press found Mr. Paul — drawing a large portion of his support from self-described independents and liberal or moderate voters who usually are not prominent players in Republican caucus politics.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's free fall in the polls after a barrage of negative ads left him in fourth place, angry and vowing to claw his way back. As Mr. Gingrich prepared for defeat, he repeatedly called Mr. Romney a liar and accused him of trying to buy the election. He began his New Hampshire quest Wednesday by going on the attack with a full-page "Choice" ad, characterizing Mr. Romney as a "Timid Massachusetts Moderate."
Mr. Gingrich finished with 16,251 votes, while Mr. Perry was left with 12,604 and Mrs. Bachmann with 6,073.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who didn't really compete here, garnered 745 votes, and the other 341 votes split among other candidates. Businessman Herman Cain, who dropped out of the race late last year, received the support of 58 caucus-goers.
Tuesday's caucuses saw 122,250 people vote, which was a slight increase compared with 2008, when 119,188 people turned out to caucus on the Republican side.
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