What happened to Michele Bachmann? Not too long ago – OK, last August – she was a hot item in GOP politics. She won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll that month, and was on every big Sunday talk show in the nation days later.
She seemed tough, and substantive, with a North Country twang – a Sarah Palin who could talk about tax policy and who was actually running. Maybe she wouldn’t win, but it looked like she would be a force in the coming campaign.
Now Representative Bachmann is heading back to Minnesota after a disastrous finish in the Iowa caucuses. On Wednesday she announced at a press conference that she was officially dropping out of the race.
"I have decided to stand aside ... I have no regrets," she said.
In the end, Bachmann may have raised her profile, and become a national figure, but her candidacy cratered like a rock tossed off a New Hampshire cliff.
What were her problems? Here are a few:
Gaffes. OK, Bachmann did not scramble the events of Paul Revere’s ride, as Palin famously did last summer. But she did place the opening battles of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire. She mistakenly claimed John Wayne had been born in her Iowa hometown of Waterloo. (It was John Wayne Gacy, the notorious serial killer). She handled these mistakes fairly well, admitting she was wrong and moving quickly on, but the gaffe-prone tag stuck.
Defections. Bachmann was dogged throughout her campaign by staff defections at key moments. Her campaign manager Ed Rollins quit in September, then sniped at her from the safety of cable news studios. Days before this week’s caucuses, her Iowa co-chair, Kent Sorenson, leapt over to Ron Paul’s campaign. House staffers say Bachmann is a tough boss, and that apparently continued on the trail.
On Tuesday night it was Mr. Rollins, an old Washington pro, who stuck a knife in her candidacy and pronounced it done. “At the end of the day she didn’t quite pass the muster that she needed to be looked at as a credible candidate,” he said.
Women. You would think the only female candidate in the GOP race might attract a disproportionate share of woman voters. But Bachmann didn’t. According to an Iowa State University poll taken in late December, her vote share was about 7.2 percent with both genders.
In contrast, third-place finisher Ron Paul had a huge gender gap in that same poll, with 32 percent of women saying they would support him, and 22 percent of men. (He finished with 21.4 percent of the actual vote.)
On the Washington Post blog, She the People, Post writer Patricia Murphy asked whether Republican voters, including Republican women voters, remain unwilling to support a female presidential candidate.
“Why aren’t conservative women supporting one of their own?” Ms. Murphy asked.
In the end, Bachmann will always have Ames. But that’s all she’ll have, in terms of 2012 presidential campaign highlights. She turned out the lights on her effort rather than accumulate more debt to little purpose.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story reported that Michele Bachmann finished last in the Iowa caucuses.]