Michele Bachmann could have soldiered on.

She may not have had the money or the organization, but she had a plausible case for staying in the race, at least until the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary.

That was the view of some of her advisers Tuesday night, when they knew she had only 5 percent of the Iowa caucus vote.

Pushing back against speculation that it was over, her Iowa chairman, Brad Zaun, insisted she would push on to South Carolina. "She's going to compete," he said on caucus night.

Hours later, we would find out different.

After Bachmann's disappointment in Iowa -- she won 6,073 votes of 122,000 cast -- she spent the night thinking and praying, holding out hope for a rebirth in the Palmetto State, where, like Iowa, religious conservatives and Tea Partiers are a significant presence.

It would give her another shot on favorable turf. She might not have the money for ads there, but she had built up a credible ground operation.

There also was Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire. True, she was only polling at 2 percent in the Granite State, but the competition would provide two weekend debates affording a free national platform for her small-government, "repeal Obamacare" message.

After all, wasn't that why she got in the race to begin with?

For Bachmann, winning the straw poll in Ames was gravy -- far exceeding any reasonable expectation she had when she first hinted at a White House bid a year ago. But most of her forward progress ended last summer. The 4,823 votes she garnered then were only 1,250 fewer than she got Tuesday night.

Even before she knew the final vote tally, Bachmann had bought a plane ticket to South Carolina. She didn't use it.

In the end, she knew she did not have the resources to keep up with the leaders. And the possibility of another drubbing would do little for the national Bachmann brand.

So her campaign ended where it began, in Iowa.

Amid misty eyes and tears, she called it quits Wednesday morning, calling together her family, the press, supporters and volunteers. It was a courtesy that had not been extended by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Similarly dejected after a fourth-place finish in the straw poll, he took his leave in the relative safety of a television studio.

Bachmann's exit was more honest and raw. She faced the cameras and thanked her supporters, in person, in a public space. Then she walked the gantlet of microphones and questions about her future.

It was not easy, said Alice Stewart, the spokeswoman who had become Bachmann's constant companion on the campaign trail. "She could have called it in."

Tweet of the week

@fredthompson: "Ahead of primary, NH restaurant bans politicians from the premises. I guess their 'no shoes, no service' policy extends to flip-flops." Fred Thompson, former Republican presidential candidate.

A look ahead

Ramsey County and Minneapolis have until 5 p.m. Thursday to turn in their final proposals for a new Vikings stadium.