How Michele Bachmann’s Faith—and Gender—May Have Cost Her a Shot at the Nomination

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Lars Tunbjork for TIME

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota waves from her presidential campaign bus in Iowa, Jan. 3, 2011.

After finishing second-to-last in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, Michele Bachmann announced Wednesday morning that she will suspend her race for the White House. Five months ago, the three-term Minnesota Congresswoman led the GOP pack, winning the Iowa straw poll with 28% of the votes cast. Her fall from grace was gradual—her poll numbers continued to wither until the very end. And her exit leaves the 2012 field a male-only cast.

“I look forward to the next chapter in God’s plan,” she told supporters Wednesday morning. “He has one for each of us you know, if we would only cooperate with him.” It seems likely that it was in fact religious guidance that scuttled her candidacy in the first place.

It’s impossible to pinpoint one moment that her campaign collapsed. Perhaps her over-the-top statements on everything from vaccines to socialism left voters feeling alienated. Maybe her promise to repeal ObamaCare couldn’t trump her lack of foreign policy experience. But if anything’s for sure, it’s that Bachmann was a casualty of the long fight for the favor Evangelicals in her native state of Iowa.

Before Rick Perry’s rise in August, Bachmann was the leading evangelical candidate. But after Tim Pawlenty dropped out following his distant third finish at the Iowa straw poll, Perry quickly became the conservative and Tea Party darling.  Soon the traditional conservative Christian right and its cast of influential old-guard male players like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, and Rick Scarborough rallied behind Rick Perry, some even hosting a private weekend rally in late August to further his support among their ranks.

This change ushered in a familiar dynamic at play in evangelical circles: men are often given positions of spiritual leadership, and women are not. While many evangelicals say they are supportive of female leadership, when given the option of a man, female candidates are often put on the back burner, especially when it comes to positions of spiritual leadership. Since both Perry and Bachmann tied their presidential ambitions to their own spiritual leadership of the nation, Bachmann got the boot.

Her speech at Liberty University on Sept. 28—and the way it too closely mirrored the style of a pastor’s sermon—perhaps sealed the deal. She stood behind the pulpit while her husband, Marcus, sat off to stage left. Falwell Jr almost seemed bored as he introduced her. Unlike his introduction for Perry’s Liberty speech two weeks prior, he related no personal stories about their similar college pranks, no dramatic statements about her pro-life platform, and no “history is about to repeat itself” prophecy of destined leadership. Yes, Bachmann won the straw poll of Liberty University students. But that was no endorsement from the conservative political Christian gatekeepers like Falwell. Younger evangelicals tend to be more supportive of women in leadership roles than their elders, but the power players like the Jerry Falwell Jrs and Tony Perkins still wield the weight. And that’s what did Bachmann in.