AMES, Iowa ó Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) claimed victory at the Ames straw poll on Saturday, barely besting Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) by a 152-vote margin.
Bachmann won with 4,823 votes, or 28.6 percent of the total votes cast. Paul garnered 4,671 votes, or slightly less than one percent less than Bachmannís total.
Tim Pawlenty placed a distant third with 2,293 votes. His disappointing 13.7-percent finish is not good news for the former Minnesota governor, who devoted much of his campaign time and resources to Iowa throughout the summer.
Bachmannís win propels her already building momentum in the Hawkeye State. Iowa Republican Party officials announced that 16,892 people voted in the straw poll, thousands of whom stood in line outside Bachmannís tent for hours in the summer sun. The Ames straw poll is the traditional kick-off of the presidential campaign season in Iowa, and often serves as a harbinger for the Iowa caucuses. Three of the past five straw poll winners have gone on to win the caucuses later that cycle.
But most of all, the event was a test of organization and energy for the nine candidates who appeared on the 2012 straw poll ballot. Both Bachmann and Paul proved they could turn out voters in the state five months before the caucuses.
Paul, in particular, proved to have a more organized operation than his last straw poll effort in 2007, when he placed fifth. Before 7 a.m., the Congressmanís campaign signs lined the road on the way to the Iowa State University athletic complex that hosted the event. By mid-morning, empty buses formerly filled with his supporters stood idle in the parking lot.
Even though he placed in the top three, Pawlentyís performance is likely to fuel speculation that his campaign is losing steam.
Pawlentyís campaign tried to spin the results in its favor, issuing a press release proclaiming it moved, ďfrom the back of the pack into a competitive position for the caucuses, but we have a lot more work to do.Ē
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) came in fourth with 1,657 votes, followed by former Godfatherís Pizza CEO Herman Cain, with 1,456 votes.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was not on the ballot, but scored 718 write-in votes hours after he announced his candidacy in South Carolina in the middle of the voting period.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 567 votes, followed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) with 385 votes, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 69 votes and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) with 35 votes.
Neither Huntsman nor Romney attended the event or actively campaigned for votes. Romney spent about $1 million in 2007 to win the straw poll but has focused his efforts on New Hampshire this time.
Throughout the day, it was clear that Bachmann supporters were out in full force.