Michele Bachmann to endorse former rival Mitt Romney

While seeking the Republican nomination for president for much of last year, Michele Bachmann urged voters in her party to support her as the true conservative in the race — a plea that was an implicit dig at front-runner Mitt Romney.

But four months after dropping out of the race, the Minnesota congresswoman will endorse the presumed Republican nominee at an event Thursday in Portsmouth, Va., according to campaign officials.

With her ties to tea party and evangelical groups, Bachmann could help Romney win over and energize a crucial sector of conservative voters who have been reluctant to embrace him.

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But while widely admired by Republican voters for her tenacity and independence, she demonstrated limited appeal in the waning days of the race after briefly leading the Republican field last summer last summer. When she suspended her campaign in early January after placing sixth in Iowa’s Republican caucuses, the three-term congresswoman was drawing low single digits in the polls.

As a candidate, Bachmann was a harsh critic of President Obama’s healthcare law, and while she often said she did not want to speak “ill” of other candidates, she charged that Romney’s healthcare law in Massachusetts was a precursor to the president’s plan.

In an interview with ABC before the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann said Romney could not defeat Obama because his healthcare plan was too similar to the president’s.

“The signature issue of Obama is ‘Obamacare.’ You can’t have a candidate who has given the blueprint for Obamacare. It’s too identical. It’s not going to happen. We have to have a candidate, a bold, distinct candidate, in the likeness of Ronald Reagan,” she told ABC.

Since her departure from the campaign, Bachmann has been more gracious in her comments about Romney than other contenders, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who formally withdrew from the race Wednesday.

In an interview with CNN last week, Bachmann said she was taking some time before endorsing Romney, and noted that it took months to heal the divisions in the Democratic Party after the bruising contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.

The congresswoman said she had been “working behind the scenes, bringing together all factions of our party” to unite behind Romney to achieve their shared goal of defeating Obama in November.