Once considered the candidate to beat in the Iowa caucuses, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) now places last in the polls going into the state's Tuesday kickoff of the 2012 primary season. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and a surging Rick Santorum are way ahead of Bachmann, and she's fallen behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, too. Still, Bachmann says she expects to "see a miracle." And no matter what happens, she has vowed to compete in upcoming contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond. But if the Minnesota congresswoman fails to do well in the state where she was born, will it be time for her to drop out?

Let's be honest. Bachmann is done: The Minnesota Tea Partier is trying to be a "happy warrior," says Patricia Murphy at The Daily Beast. But judging from her plummeting poll numbers and "anemic $7,600 ad buy (her first and only television ads in the state)," she's running a "campaign in its last throes of existence." Bachmann peaked in August when she won the Ames Straw Poll. Since then, her "verbal gaffes and failed fact-checks" have convinced her fans that she's simply "not ready for primetime."
"Michele Bachmann's last stand: Campaign may end in Iowa"

Regardless, she should press on beyond Iowa: "No GOP candidate should entertain the notion of dropping out of the race based on what happens in Iowa," says Roland Martin at CNN. Bachmann knows that better than anyone — her win in the Ames Straw Poll prompted former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to drop out, a decision he probably regrets now. There are 50 states, and in this "unpredictable" race, it's ridiculous to say "it's all about Iowa," for Bachmann or anyone else.
"Don't believe the Iowa hype"

And remember, Bachmann could still be VP: "Bachmann's presidential hopes are dimming," says Matt Negrin at ABC News, "but she still might have a shot at the White House — as a pick for vice president." No matter what happens in Iowa, she needs to keep competing to boost her credibility in the party. "She's still an admired figure in the Tea Party," so she could be valuable on the ticket, "especially if the nominee were a more moderate guy" like Mitt Romney.
"After Iowa: What's next for the losers?"