ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports:
AMES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty finished a disappointing third in today's Iowa straw poll here, far behind winner Michele Bachmann – with 28 percent of the vote – and runner-up Ron Paul – with 27 percent.
Pawlenty earned 13 percent of the vote, only beating Rick Santorum by a little over 600 votes.
"I want to congratulate Congresswoman Bachmann on her victory in today's straw poll," Pawlenty said in an email to supporters afterwards entitled "Just the Beginning." "I'm also very proud of the work my campaign has done, and I appreciate their hard work. 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."
"I'm encouraged by our progress, and I'm so thankful for the thousands of Iowans who showed their support for my candidacy by voting for me in Ames," he said. "Don't miss my remarks at the straw poll earlier today including our latest video. We are now moving onto the next phase of our campaign. Over the coming weeks we will be visiting New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida while continuing to grow our already strong ground game in Iowa. Mary and I will never forget your continued support, words of encouragement, and friendship."
Although Pawlenty touted his progress at the poll, the bar was pretty low. In the weeks before Ames Pawlenty had said that he simply wanted to do better in Ames than his sixth-place showing in the Des Moines Register poll in late June.
For a candidate who was once touted as a leading threat to GOP frontrunner to Mitt Romney – and whose campaign has the type of organizational might needed for success in Ames – to finish far closer to Santorum than to Bachmann or Paul had to come as a bitter blow.
The former Minnesota governor was reportedly planning to spend a total of around $1.5 million on his Iowa campaign from his launch in late May through mid-August.
In Pawlenty's email to supporters he asked them to make a “Victory Contribution” to "commemorate our strong showing in Ames."
"We’ve completed an important first step on the road to the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the White House," he said. "We can’t do it alone, and I need your support to continue the journey."
Judging by today's results, it is fair to say many people will have a lot of questions in the coming days about precisely how – and for how long – Pawlenty can "continue the journey."