As expected, Michele Bachmann announced the suspension of her presidential campaign after coming in last among candidates seriously vying for a win in the Iowa caucuses. The outcome was inevitable after the disappointing finish, but a suspension still leaves Bachmann some cards to play in 2012:

The Minnesota congresswoman suspended her campaign, a legal technicality that will allow her to continue to raise and spend campaign funds.

“Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside,” Bachmann told a crowd of supporters in West Des Moines. But, she added, “I will continue fighting to defeat the president’s agenda of socialism.”

“It is safe to say we don’t see a viable way forward,” a Republican source familiar with Bachmann’s campaign told CNN before the announcement.

Bachmann’s withdrawal is a blow to many die-hard tea party conservatives. The congresswoman, a leading populist conservative in the House of Representatives, has often led the GOP’s rhetorical charge against President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Bachmann made a wise choice, and leaving her options open gives her at least some influence in the race.  While the result of the race is obviously disappointing, I think Bachmann did herself more good than harm in 2011 as a presidential candidate.  She managed to push her way past the “crazy eyes” meme, especially in the last few debates, while still occasionally tripping up on her habit of unsupportable hyperbole.

Where does she go from here?  I’d suspect that she’ll refocus on a re-election bid for her House seat, but after this year, she will also have more claim to a spot in Republican leadership in the next session of Congress.  Her raised profile will help build her standing with Tea Party activists around the country, and that will make her a formidable critic of Barack Obama in the general election.  On top of that, it will also help her expand her nationwide fundraising efforts, a task at which Bachmann has proven especially adept over the years.  She’s not done by any stretch of the imagination, and she may be stronger than ever as a result.

Update: Sorry, I just noticed the headline problem. I accidentally pasted the tags into the headline field.