GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann’s big win in the Iowa straw poll Saturday solidified her standing as the favorite to win the Iowa caucus, but Texas Rep. Ron Paul
’s very strong second-place showing raised pundits’ eyebrows and could have important implications for the rest of the Republican field.
Based on results released shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday, Bachmann won 4,823 votes, or 28.5 percent of the 16,892 votes cast.
Paul was just 152 votes behind her, demonstrating once again the fervent grass-roots support that he enjoys. His 4,671 votes represented 27.6 percent of all ballots cast.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who poured serious resources into the straw poll in a bid to register an upset, trailed the frontrunners by a significant margin and finished a somewhat distant third with 2,293 percent, or about 13.6 percent of the vote.
Pawlenty had said Friday that a poor showing could force him to reassess his campaign strategy, and after the tallies were announced commentators immediately began evaluating his prospects going forward.
MSNBC political guru Chuck Todd remarked: “It was a tough number there for Tim Pawlenty not even to be a close third.”
Former RNC chairman Michael Steele sounded a more optimistic note, however. “Third place for someone like Tim Pawlenty is still good,” Steele said. “It gives him some room to maneuver. It gives him a chance to go to some donors and continue to fuel that fire, while he tries to also live off the land, and push this thing as long and as hard as he can. So this could be pretty competitive going into the fall.”
The straw poll offered several other interesting tidbits. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum placed a respectable fourth place in the contest, with 1,657 votes.
Also, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who tossed his hat in the ring earlier in the day in South Carolina, actually received more write-in votes than did presumed GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, who won the Iowa straw poll in 2007.
Perry had 718 votes to Romney’s 567, but neither candidate mounted a major effort to win the straw poll.
The most notable headline from the straw poll was Bachmann’s strength in Iowa after only being in the race for about six weeks, and the razor-thin margin by which Paul fell just short of a major upset. In fact Paul’s 4,671 votes exceeded the vote total Romney collected in 2007, when he won the straw poll.
There were several indications leading up to the straw poll that Bachmann was gaining momentum. She was credited with a strong debate performance earlier in the week, and supporters waited in line for an hour-and-a-half to visit her campaign tent on Saturday.
“We won’t let the next generation down we too will lay it on the line and in 2012 we will take the nation back,” Bachmann told supporters during a stump speech.
The strong turnout – nearly 17,000 Iowans voted, about 2,500 more ballots than were cast in 2007 -- probably worked to Bachmann’s advantage as well, pundits said.
Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and talk host Herman Cain also had a solid showing with 1,456 votes, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich earned 385 votes. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman collected 69 votes, and Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter drew 35.
The Ames straw poll always attracts the eye of the national media, but only rarely does it accurately predict who wins the GOP nomination.
In 1980, for example, George H. W. Bush won the straw poll over eventual nominee Ronald Reagan. In 1988, 700 Club Founder Pat Robertson won the straw poll, while the elder Bush won the nomination. However, George W. Bush won both the straw poll and the nomination in 2000.
In 2007, Mitt Romney won the Iowa straw poll with 4,516 votes, which was 31.6 percent of ballots cast. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee placed second with 2,587 votes that year, representing 18.1 percent.
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