Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll today, giving her Republican presidential campaign momentum while dealing a blow to the candidacy of her fellow Minnesotan, Tim Pawlenty.
Bachmann, a U.S. House member who is a favorite of Tea Party activists pushing to significantly shrink the size of government, won with 29 percent of the vote. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a libertarian-leaning Republican, ran a close second with 28 percent, while Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, finished a distant third at 14 percent.
The win solidified Bachmann’s standing in the top tier for the 2012 Republican nomination as Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose name wasn’t on the straw poll ballot, officially joined the field today.
Perry, who likely will vie for many of the same Tea Party and socially conservative voters Bachmann appeals to, announced his candidacy today in a speech in South Carolina and plans a campaign trip to Iowa tomorrow.
Bachmann’s win “is a big boost for her,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who finished second in the 2007 straw poll, told reporters. “Whoever wins or comes in second, they get gas for their fire. Whoever doesn’t, they get water for theirs.”
In 2008, Huckabee went on to win the Iowa caucuses that officially begin the nomination process.
For Bachmann and Pawlenty, the stakes going into the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, were especially high. Each is focused on winning the 2012 Iowa caucuses as the best means of propelling their candidacies.
Bachmann, 55, has drawn enthusiastic audiences while campaigning in Iowa. Pawlenty, 50, had built an extensive political organization in the state and tirelessly campaigned there. For each, the straw poll offered the chance to show how successful their efforts have been.
“This is the very first step towards taking the White House in 2012,” Bachmann told supporters after her win. “This was a wonderful down-payment on taking the country back.”
Upon learning of her win, Bachmann broke out in tears and hugged her husband, Marcus, according to spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
“She was very moved, humbled and extremely thankful,” Marcus Bachmann said in a brief interview. “We held each other for a quite a while.”
Paul, 75, benefited from committed supporters drawn to his fiscal policy, which calls for a return to linking the dollar to gold, and a non-interventionist foreign policy that is the basis for his opposition to the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
“We’re into wars that are costing us trillions of dollars,” he said in a speech at the straw poll site today prior to the voting. “Those trillions of dollars should have been left in the economy to build jobs.”
Though previous straw poll winners haven’t consistently gone on to win the Iowa caucuses or gain the Republican nomination, the contest does have a record of weeding out candidates who fail to finish near the top.
Republican activists, donors and political consultants use the poll to gauge the political prospects of the candidates. A win often means an influx of new donations and grassroots support, while a poor showing can all but end a candidacy.
“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,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning and I’m looking forward to a great campaign.”
Former Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in national polls and fundraising among Republicans, didn’t actively compete in the straw poll, though his name was on the ballot.
Write-ins also were allowed, and Perry finished ahead of Romney, 4 percent to 3 percent. Their showings placed Perry sixth and Romney seventh.
Finishing in fourth place was former Senator Rick Santorum, with 10 percent of the vote.
“Hopefully, with this finish, people will start listening to what we’re having to say and put us out there with everybody else instead of burying us below folks below us in the polls,” Santorum said.
“We came within just a few hundred votes of third place,” he said, noting the more expansive spending on the contest by the candidates that finished ahead of him.
In fifth was former Godfather’s Pizza Inc. executive Herman Cain, at 9 percent.
Rounding out the field were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, with 2 percent, and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, each of whom received less than 1 percent.
Overall, 16,892 ballots were cast in the straw poll, up from about 14,000 four years ago.
Bachmann totaled 4,823, while Paul had 4,671 and Pawlenty 2,293.
Huckabee said Bachmann should not be underestimated nationally.
“Michele is really a very articulate candidate,” he said. “She’s strong. She’s not afraid of people. And she is very disciplined, even when people are throwing things right at her face, she stands in the batter’s box and doesn’t flinch.”
Attendance at the straw poll, which doubles as a fundraiser for the state Republican Party, requires a $30 admission ticket. Better-financed candidates often pick up that cost and provide bus rides to the venue, along with food and entertainment.
A ballot spot was guaranteed by renting space at the straw poll site or by placement there by the state party.
--Editors: Don Frederick, Paul Tighe
To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Ames, Iowa, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Ames, Iowa, at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org
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