Proving that she could match enthusiasm with organization, Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll Saturday, catapulting her into into the next phase of the Republican presidential primary.
"Now it's on to all 50 states," Bachmann said in front of her campaign bus minutes after the results were announced. She thanked Iowans for her support. "God bless you, everyone."
The result is the first indication of what Iowans think of the field of Republicans competing for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama next fall. But it's hardly predictive of who will win the winter Iowa contest, much less the party nod or the White House.
Rather, Saturday's outcome suggests that Bachmann
has a certain level of support and, perhaps even more important, the strongest get-out-the-vote operation and widest volunteer base in a state whose caucuses require those elements.
The results of the contest here also dealt a potentially devastating blow to Tim Pawlenty, who despite weeks of crisscrossing the state to boost support for his candidacy, trailed in a distant third place behind both Bachmann and second-place finisher Ron Paul.
"I want to congratulate Congresswoman Bachmann on her victory in today's straw poll. I'm also very proud of the work my campaign has done, and I appreciate their hard work," Pawlenty said in a statement Saturday. "As I've said all along, we needed to show progress to do well, and we did just that. This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning, and I'm eager for the campaign."
Bachmann, who has been firing up crowds across Iowa all week, received a total of 4,823 votes out of a total 16,892 votes cast, which topped the 2007 total of 14,302. Less than 200 votes separated Bachmann from Paul, who received 4,671 votes.
"I think we did very well," Paul said in a brief as he left the campus of Iowa State University where the straw poll was held.
Pawlenty's weak showing -- more than 2,500 votes behind Bachmann -- will inevitably lead to talk about whether he will be able to continue his presidential bid.
At a breakfast with reporters earlier this week, Pawlenty acknowledged "if we do really bad, we'll have to reassess," suggesting that at the very least a campaign shake-up may be in the works.
The results came on a day when the 2012 Republican field added another high-profile contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who received 718 write-in votes, surpassing the 567 total votes cast for GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.
Bachmann, whose campaign faced a controversy over whether a magazine cover photo and a debate question directed at her were sexist, becomes the first woman to ever win the Ames Straw poll.
"I want to thank all of the wonderful people of Iowa. Thank you everyone, we did this together. "What we saw happen today was this is the very first step towards taking back the White House in 2012 and you have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president," Bachmann said Saturday. "This was a wonderful downpayment on taking the country back and it started in Iowa. You've done it Iowa, thank you."
Although the importance of the contest has been a matter of some debate, since 1987, the first or second-place finisher in the straw poll has gone on to win the Iowa Caucuses.