Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann announced her withdrawal from the race Wednesday after a dismal last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses one day earlier.

The Minnesota congresswoman broke the news at a press conference Wednesday morning in Des Moines, Iowa.

"Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside," she said.

Bachmann didn't lend her support to any of the remaining candidates but urged all Republicans to back the eventual successful party nominee.

"I believe if we are going to repeal Obamacare, turn our country around and take back our country we must do so united and I believe we must rally around the person our country, our party and our people chooses to be that standard bearer."

On Tuesday night, Bachmann had told a small group of supporters she was staying in the presidential race despite the sixth-place showing, and believed she was the only true conservative candidate who could defeat Barack Obama.

However, it appeared Bachmann, 55, had changed her mind by Wednesday morning when she cancelled her planned campaign trip to South Carolina.

Bachmann had finished in first place in an Iowa GOP poll in the summer, but her support has dwindled in recent weeks and her campaign war chest was believed to be running low.

She had focused her campaign efforts on Iowa, where she grew up, and was widely seen as needing a strong finish there to continue on through the rest of the U.S.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum has emerged as the likely new champion for conservative Republicans after he finished just eight votes behind moderate front-runner Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday.

Santorum spent weeks campaigning in all 99 counties in Iowa and is believed to have won the support of many evangelical Christians who are wary of Romney, a moderate Mormon.

CTV's Washington Bureau Chief Paul Workman said the battle is just beginning for former Pennsylvania senator Santorum.

"The Republican Party seems to have found a new challenger who will take on Mitt Romney -- Rick Santorum. But the man doesn't have much money, doesn't have much of an organization, and he's now going to move into a primary contest where there's a vote almost every week so it's going to be very tough for him," Workman said.

Romney, on the other hand, is well organized, well funded, and has the political machinery in place to carry him through the rest of the nomination process.

When the votes were tallied Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn said Romney had 30,015 votes, or 24.55 per cent, compared to Santorum's 30,007 votes, or 24.54 per cent.

It was a late surge for Santorum that carried him to a near win after he appeared to have swayed many of the 42 per cent of voters who said they were still undecided going into Tuesday.

Ron Paul followed in third place with 21.5 per cent of the votes. Newt Gingrich, who showed a new and unexpected bitterness in a speech Tuesday night, calling Romney a liar, followed in fourth place. Rick Perry finished in fifth and finally Michele Bachmann trailed in a distant sixth. Perry posted a tweet on Wednesday saying he plans to stay in the race.

Workman said Santorum's challenge will be to capitalize on his quick rise to prominence and put a team together that will help him present a realistic challenge to Romney.

"He does have a surge of momentum there's no question coming out of Iowa and that is very important," Workman told CTV's Canada AM from Iowa.

"It will bring in money, there will be donations coming in today. He will appeal to the conservative side of the party now to get behind him and to convince people he is the only challenger who can take on Mitt Romney. So that is going to help him, no question, but building an organization is not something you can do overnight."

The contenders fighting for the chance to go up against U.S. President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election will head to New Hampshire next, where Romney is the clear favourite.

Earlier Tuesday night, Romney said he was looking forward to the next caucuses in New Hampshire and told supporters he would "get the job done."

Adding weight to that promise, Romney received the endorsement of John McCain on Tuesday, who twice won the New Hampshire primary and was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008.

Iowa, with a population of just over three million people, is the 30th most populous U.S. state, but as the first state to send a message about which presidential candidate it prefers, the results are considered important and deeply influential to the rest of the race.

Obama took Iowa, and the strong start helped propel him past Hillary Clinton to eventually win the Democratic presidential nomination.