Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, adding momentum to her populist-conservative campaign for president.
Out of 16,892 votes cast, Congresswoman Bachmann won 4,823 votes, or 29 percent. Coming in a close second was Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 4,671 votes, or 28 percent. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota came in third with 2,293 votes, or 14 percent.
Bachmann’s campaign has been on rocket fuel since she announced her candidacy on June 13. The fiery legislator quickly shot to first place in polls of Iowa Republicans, whose party is dominated by Christian conservatives who align with the low-tax, small-government message of the tea party. Bachmann heads the Tea Party Caucus in the House.
The entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the GOP race on Saturday likely sets him up to be the alternative to Bachmann in the conservative wing of the party. National front-runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, opted not to take part in the Iowa straw poll, though his name appeared on the ballot. He won 587 votes, compared with 718 write-in votes for Governor Perry.
In a statement after the results were announced, Bachmann thanked Iowans for "this tremendous victory."
"Together we sent a message that we intend to make President Obama a one-term president. The Iowa Straw Poll was an important first step in what will be a long race for the presidency," she said.
Congressman Paul’s close second-place finish demonstrated the force that he has become in Republican politics. Viewed as a fringe candidate when he ran four years ago, he had a large, enthusiastic crowd at the straw poll. Paul’s low-tax, small-government approach makes him, to many, the godfather of the tea party movement. But his unorthodox-for-a-Republican views on foreign policy – he opposes US military engagements abroad – will limit his potential in the GOP field.
Mr. Pawlenty, finishing a distant third, had hoped his two terms as a fiscally conservative governor of Minnesota and conservative stances on social issues would make him a natural in nearby Iowa, but he has failed to catch on here in a big way. His disappointing result dealt a serious blow to his fundraising potential, and is likely to raise speculation that he will have to drop out of the race.
Pawlenty released a statement soon after the straw poll results came out, saying he would stick it out.
“Congratulations to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for her victory in today's straw poll,” Pawlenty said. “We made progress in moving from the back of the pack into a competitive position for the caucuses, but we have a lot more work to do. This is a long process to restore America – we are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a great campaign."
In other results, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania placed fourth with 1,657 votes, or 10 percent. Businessman Herman Cain came in fifth with 1,456, or 9 percent. Perry’s 718 votes put him in sixth place, ahead of seventh-place finisher Romney’s 567 votes.
Perry supporters may make something of his finish ahead of Romney, though with neither competing in the poll, it’s impossible to say whether that’s a serious sign of strength for Perry over Romney. Still, Perry’s “victory” as a write-in over Romney, who was on the ballot, is a bit of an embarrassment for Romney. Volunteers and staff for the outside group Americans for Rick Perry, which worked hard for the past six weeks to encourage write-ins, were out in force at the straw poll.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came in eighth with 385 votes. He also did not mount much of an effort for the straw poll, though he strolled around the university grounds with his wife greeting voters for part of the day. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., another nonparticipant in the straw poll, came in ninth with 69 votes. And Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, a recent entrant into the race who did mount an effort at Ames, won 35 votes.
The rest of the votes were scattered among other write-ins.