Michele Bachmann captured the famed Iowa Straw Poll in Ames Saturday, reaching a high-profile benchmark in her meteoric rise to a top-tier presidential candidate.
Bachmann made history, as well, becoming the first woman to win the event. She received 4,823 votes out of the almost 17,000 votes cast. The turnout was a significant leap over four years ago but didn't approach the record of more than 23,000 votes cast back in 1999.
The Minnesota congresswoman narrowly outpaced libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had 4,671 votes, and whose red t-shirt-wearing supporters flooded the campus of Iowa State University, and packed the arena when Paul spoke. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty finished third with 2,293, a showing that keeps him in the game for next year’s Iowa caucuses, but had to come off as slightly disappointing.
The hope in his camp was that his organization muscle in Iowa would propel him to the top, but he was no match for the charismatic Bachmann, whose political star continues its dizzying ascent. Where Pawlenty relied on traditional, on-the-ground campaigning, Bachmann rode a wave of media-fueled enthusiasm that, right now, shows no sign of abating.
Still, in spite of Bachmann’s victory, the poll came on the day that Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared that he, too, will mount a presidential run, setting up a showdown in Iowa over the social and fiscal conservatives that dominate the caucuses here.
Bachmann planned to appear on the five major network Sunday morning talk shows Sunday as part of a blitz to capitalize on the win—and perhaps a tactic to thwart Perry’s momentum. Both candidates will speak at a dinner in Waterloo, Iowa Sunday evening.
Winning the straw poll doesn’t guarantee victory in the caucuses, however; Mitt Romney won in 2007 and then lost to Mike Huckabee when it counted five months later. And Perry’s candidacy unsettles the race further, making the outcome next year here hazier than ever.
Perry's backers sought space at the Straw Poll but ran in to objections from other candidates. As a result the Texan's supporters gathered via word of mouth and Facebook at the tent headquarters of Strong America Now an organization founded in part by Dallas entrepreneur Mike George.
The crowd of 200 or so in the tent burst into applause as Perry announced his candidacy in a broadcast from South Carolina.
One of those wearing one of the dozens of purple "Rick Perry for America" t shirts was Craig Schoenfeld a Des Moines attorney who had previously worked in other campaigns, most recently leading Newt Gingrich's Iowa operation.
He predicted that Iowans would warm to Perry as the true conservative "who can win... It becomes an issue of pragmatism."
Staff writer Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.