BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - Michele Bachmann told a small group of supporters Tuesday night that she's staying in the presidential race as the only true conservative who can defeat the sitting president, despite a bleak showing in the Iowa caucuses.
The Minnesota congresswoman was running in last place among six candidates as returns came in from the nation's first Republican presidential nominating contest.
"I believe that I am that true conservative who can and who will defeat Barack Obama in 2012," she said. "What we need is a fearless conservative, one with no compromises on their record on spending on health care, on crony capitalism, on defending America, on standing with our ally Israel."
Shortly before Bachmann spoke, her campaign manager suggested she might leave the race. Asked if he could say with certainty whether she would go forward with her candidacy, Bachmann campaign manager Keith Nahigian told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, "I don't know yet."
Nahigian added, "It's hard to tell, but everything is planned."
But shortly thereafter Nahigian said she was going "full steam" ahead.
Bachmann's showing was a sharp turn after she finished in first place in the Iowa GOP's summer straw poll. Coincidentally, her campaign bus took her past Ames, the site of her August triumph, as the dismal caucus results were rolling in.
"I'm disappointed with what happened in Iowa," said her state campaign chairman, Brad Zaun. "I think you move on. Iowa is one state."
Bachmann is sure to face pressure to reconsider her campaign even as she marches on. She acknowledged as much Tuesday night.
"Over the next few days, just be prepared," Bachmann said. "The pundits and the press will again try to pick the nominee based on tonight's results but there are many more chapters to be written on the path to our party's nomination."
On Fox News, 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said things looked dim for Bachmann.
"Unless she wants to spend her own money, I personally can't see how it's going to do a whole lot of good," Palin said.
Before the voting began, Bachmann traveled to the backyard of her childhood to make her final appeal for support, imploring voters in her native Iowa to "reclaim our country." But the caucus site was hardly unified. Bachmann would need more than hometown connections to pull back into contention.
"I feel sorry for her," said Randy Herod, a retired business consultant. "She's real nice, but this isn't her time."
South Carolina is Bachmann's next stop. The campaign has events planned there over the next few days.
She's effectively writing off New Hampshire, which holds a primary next week, for the Southern state that is, on paper, a better fit for her brand of conservatism. Like Iowa, the GOP electorate pays considerable attention to candidate stances on cultural issues.
Aside from Iowa, Bachmann has invested the most time in South Carolina. She hopes to tap into the state's base of tea party and Christian conservatives.