Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann became the first woman to win the Ames straw poll today, eking out a razor thin victory over Ron Paul.
With 4,823 Iowans casting their ballots in her support, she took 28.6 percent of the votes.
Ron Paul came with 27.7 percent, while Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty placed a distant third with 13.6 percent.
Nearly 17,000 participants came to the event, the second highest turnout in straw poll history.
“It’s no surprise for Bachmann to win this straw poll,” said visiting University of Iowa political science professor David Orentlicher. “She has a very strong conservative standpoint, which is matched with her Iowa base.” He expressed doubts, however, that Bachmann could beat Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a national race.
Orentlicher said Ron Paul’s ranking was “favorable,” but didn’t see him becoming a presidential nominee.
But by 8:15 p.m., the Paul camp was already spinning the vote as a victory, depicting the results as “a “statistical tie” with Bachmann.
“Dr. Paul is surging in this race, and today’s results show the strength of his grassroots support and top notch organization,” said campaign chairman Jesse Benton. “These straw poll results, our growing poll numbers and our strong fundraising shows that our message is resonating with Iowans and Americans everywhere.”
“Today, Ron Paul has emerged as a top tier candidate and is a serious contender to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency,” he said.
As for Pawlenty, who has spent weeks organizing in Iowa, David Schultz, professor of political science at Hamlin University in St. Paul, Minn., said, “This is a blow. He is going to talk third, but it is a distant third.”
But Pawlenty vowed to continue. Following the announcement of the straw poll results, he addressed his Twitter followers saying:
“Congrats to Rep. Bachmann on her win. Our campaign needed to show progress and we did. I’m eager for the campaign ahead.” His online optimism is not out of character, as his speech referred to the party’s need to choose a candidate who can reach out to swing voters in the Midwest and Northeast.
Rick Santorum saw positive signs in his 4th place finish with 9.8 percent of the vote.
“I feel very good looking at the people up above where we are. We consider ourselves the fine wine candidate. We will age very, very well in this campaign,” Santorum said. “There are other vintages. I feel very, very good.”
Herman Cain was not cowed by his 5th place finish with 8.6 percent of the vote.
“I have had a great day in Ames at the straw poll, starting the day speaking at my tent, then performing there with Gov. Huckabee, and finally giving the closing speech for the straw poll,” he said on his Facebook page. “I am excited about the campaign moving forward from Ames, and I am humbled by the ‘Spirit of America’ that I have witnessed across America’s heartland!”
Earlier in the afternoon, Bachmann played her Iowa roots to her audience.
“Everything I need to know in life, I learned in Iowa… and I think it’s time we had an Iowan in the White House,” she said.
Bachmann’s main message was that of social conservatism, applauding her audience for ousting the three judges who passed same-sex marriage, and appealing to pro-life and Christian family values.
“Without the family, how can we survive? We need the family,” cried Bachmann to a crowd of banner-waving supporters.
“She was using an Iowa strategy, and it has placed her as one of, if not the Republican front-runner,” said Schultz.
On the steps of the Hilton Coliseum in the early morning a family of four from Waukee forecasted Bachmann’s win as they waited for the gates to open.
“We like her excitement and the charisma that she shows, and we’re confident she’s going to win,” said Kirk Fett. Clearly he wasn’t alone.
Bachmann referred to her base as a movement of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, and the Tea Party. Whether the strength of this movement carries over to a wider audience is yet to be seen.
She proudly refers to her fight against raising the debt ceiling. But recent polls say that Americans want Washington’s top priority to be creating jobs. A July Gallup poll found jobs to be Americans primary concern above federal deficit and debt.
“The straw poll is a first test of organizational strength,” said Tim Hagle, Political Science professor at the University of Iowa. “Can the candidates get supporters to Ames to the event? If they can’t you have to wonder if they can mount a statewide campaign or a national campaign.”
If her stance on issues had anything to do with her victory, her repeated reference to Christian beliefs and positions on social issues has dominated her campaign and the festivities in her straw poll tent.
The loudest cheers for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann rumbled through her tent as she professed her commitment to upholding her vision of a Christian family, by blocking same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
“In Iowa we are socially conservative, and should not have to be ashamed of being socially conservative,” Bachmann called to the crowds.
Social conservatism was the central message of both of Bachmann’s speeches, with a moment of enthusiastic country dancing to Randy Travis between her Hilton Coliseum address and the one in her tent.
Bachmann, born in Waterloo, has spent the past 48 days playing to her Iowa roots on a tour around the state. She has railed against the Obama administration and championed Tea Party values of limited government, but may have won the most popularity for her conservative views on social issues among Iowa Republicans.
“We are for Michele because she stands for our same morals and beliefs and in a strong Christian family, that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Kirk Fett of Waukee. His wife and two children nodded in agreement, as they waited on the steps of the coliseum to cast their votes, all in Bachmann t-shirts.
“Here in Iowa Tea Partyers tend to get into the social issues,” said Tim Hagle, political science professor at the University of Iowa. “Bachmann is somebody seen as the face of the Tea Party. She is very attractive to them, because she represents them both socially and fiscally.”
Flocks of volunteers bused from Minnesota also lined Bachmann’s tent.
Marjorie Holsten, 49, and Barbara Grams, 53, of Minneapolis, said they’ve been ardent Bachmann supporters for almost a decade, helping her to win a seat in the Minnesota state senate. For Grams, social issues trump fiscal issues, but Holsten said to her they are interconnected.
“If you have a liberal who says we need to spend taxpayer dollars on abortion, that’s big government and big spending that totally violates the social issues,” said Holsten.
Bachmann did, however, stray from social issues long enough to reaffirm her position against raising the U.S. debt limit. She claimed that the Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade of the United States indicated they agreed with her stance.
However, the S&P report found the gulf between the Democrats and Republicans much more troubling than raising the debt ceiling. The S&P report said that “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.”
And according to an August poll by the Washington Post, more Americans blamed the GOP for the credit downgrade, 36 percent, than the 31 percent who blamed Obama and the Democrats.
Outside Ron Paul’s tent, which sat on the best spot on the grounds and cost him $31,000, hundreds of enthusiastic Ron Paul supporters stood in line and waited for a chance to fill their plates with corn on the cob, potato salad and hot dogs, while members of the Ron Paul family and campaign gave speeches in the background. Volunteers passed out copies of the United States Constitution and anti-abortion literature.
Jerry Zamzow liked Paul’s ideas about balancing the budget. Paul’s stance on refusing to raise the debt ceiling, eliminating some taxes and stabilizing small business taxes have impressed supporters like Zamzow.
“I like that he is fiscally responsible and talks about ending the wars and worrying about stuff at home,” said Zamzow.
Inside, Paul spoke true to Zamzow’s beliefs.
“We cannot protect liberty by taking liberty away from the American people,” Paul said during his speech. “Liberty does not come from the government; it comes from our creator.”
“If we are to defend liberty and allow people to spend the money as they wish, go to the church they want and run their life as they please, you have to understand where that liberty and that life comes from,” he said.
“You never have to give up liberties to be safe,” he said, in a reference to the Patriot Act.
Linking his anti-war stance to the economy, Paul said, “We’re into wars that are costing us trillions of dollars. Those trillions of dollars should have been left in the economy to build jobs and produce prosperity here at home.”
Rep. Kim Pearson, R-Pleasant Hill, was introduced to Paul supporters as the face of the Tea Party in Iowa.
Pearson said she and Paul share the same “constitutional, conservative, grassroots Republican platform.” She said Paul’s policy consistency is unparalleled in Washington and has been so for the past 24 years. His state-versus-federal-government beliefs influence her own: that state issues should be dealt with by state governments.
When asked how the Paul campaign compares with other potential candidates, Pearson said other camps were getting nervous of Paul’s growing support.
Pearson called Paul a ‘winter soldier’ or someone who was willing to fight in the cold without shoes.
Tim Pawlenty has a lot riding on the Iowa straw poll, but he doesn’t seem worried.
“How could you not feel good? The sun is out, the sky is blue, the grass is green,” Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, told a local ABC affiliate.
Pawlenty finished third with 2293 votes.
Beginning with an early announcement from Des Moines, Pawlenty has criss-crossed Iowa holding town events and café meet-and-greets. His campaign’s focus on success in Iowa has been proven with a $200,000 television ad buy in the Des Moines/Ames area in the run-up to the straw poll. Nevertheless, downplays the poll and recently defended his polls to Chris Wallace Fox News Sunday by saying he is not running for “entertainer in chief.”
At the poll Saturday, Pawlenty supporters were easily recognized by their green #12 Pawlenty t-shirts, and they made their presence known.
They filed into the coliseum just before 1 p.m. to hear Pawlenty’s speech. After showing his latest commercial, Pawlenty came out looking confident. Wearing a blue button down shirt and a pair of dark jeans, he leaned slightly into the podium, with his loosely fidgety style, occasionally twisting the toe of his right loafer into the floor.
Pawlenty’s speech has evolved through the campaign, but he has carried through many key points from when he addressed the Iowa Tea Party in Des Moines this past March. He keeps President Obama in focus, criticizing him for what he labeled as “apology tours” and arguing that he of denies America’s “exceptionalism.”
Although Obama has made a point of comparing his foreign policy to his predecessor, he has yet to apologize to any audiences abroad.
Working on his theme of not running for “entertainer in chief,” Pawlenty continues to claim that Obama has offered little to Americans beyond “soaring rhetoric.”
“Barack Obama’s rhetoric doesn’t put gas in our cars does it?”
“No!,” shouted the green mass in front of the podium.
“Barack Obama’s rhetoric doesn’t give us a job, does it?”
“Is it time for Barack Obama to go?”
After finishing his speech, Pawlenty quickly exited the coliseum and returned to the tent, shaking hands, while Mike Huckabee strapped on a bass guitar for his second set at the Pawlenty stage.
Pawlenty was not taking questions, and organization continued to be a hallmark of his campaign’s performance.
“We’re not supposed to comment and stick to our jobs,” said one volunteer.
Rick Santorum showed up for the Ames straw poll at 7:00 a.m. Saturday, and went to work greeting supporters in the parking lots.
He was doing what he defines as “leadership” not “showmanship.”
For Santorum it’s of little matter that he barely registers on national public polls, that his face doesn’t grace the covers of national news magazines, or that he was largely overlooked during Thursday’s debate, until he spoke up to object.
“We will do something that no reporter here believe is gonna to happen. This is not the mainstream media country, this is not MSNBC’s country, this is even not FOX NEWS country, this is your country,” Santorum said to the crowd at his tent.
Clearly, the Santorum campaign has worked very hard to get more recognition.The entire Santorum family (wife Karen and their children) have been roaming around in Iowa for one month to do the “old-fashioned politics” by “looking into voters’ eyes and listening to them.”
And the turnout of his one-month non-stop campaign is actually positive, a campaign spokesman said.There were 25-plus buses bringing in voters. In Santorum’s tent, a summer dance party with the late Buddy Holly’s backup band, The Crickets was rocking. He was handing out jars of preserves from the peach trees at his Pennsylvania home. His tent got a very long line, which was the second longest line at the straw poll.The longest line was Bachmann’s.
“This is the little engine that could campaign,” he said. “They told us we had no chance; all the press does is write about these shiny engines. We didn’t wait around, we worked hard…This is a chance to strike a blow, a heartland campaign,” said Santorum.
Starting with the video highlighting Santorum’s record on partial-birth abortions, which drew a huge applause from the crowd, the former Pennsylvania senator said the GOP has to be about more than just cutting taxes and spending.
“Those who want to ignore social issues don’t understand the party and they don’t understand Iowa,” said Santorum.
Santorum also touched on health care.
“With Obamacare, everyone is a mannequin and a puppet attached to Washington, D.C., pulled in the direction that Washington wants you to be pulled. Not on my watch,” Santorum said.
He was first elected as the House of Representatives in 1990. Four years later he rode an anti-incumbent wave into the Senate. He won re-election in 2000.
Santorum said he believed he would finish among the top four in the poll.
Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and political talk show host, also had a tent at the Ames straw poll Saturday. More than 150 guests lingered in the billowing, white tent with the smell of pizza wafting through the air.
As red, white and blue balloons gathered in the tent’s top tiers, visitors — some donning cowboy hats and Fair Tax t-shirts — munched free pizza and drank Coke while enjoying the live country music.
Then came the main attraction.
Cain took over the stage, dancing to gospel tunes before he addressed his supporters. His speech wasn’t focused on policy issues, but rather about “being energized,” he said.
“The American people don’t care that I’ve never held public office,” Cain said to a standing applause.
Nancy Lowe, 71-year-old retired flower shop owner and first-time straw poll visitor, said Cain gives people confidence, makes her feel comfortable and safe and is looking out for small business owners.
“He’s not a politician, and that’s very important,” she said.
Gary Boswell of Lamoni, Iowa, near the Missouri border, also became a Cain supporter after southern Iowa’s economy began to get worse. He said he wants a president who really understands the economy.
“The best thing is, he’s one of us,” Boswell said.
Lowe said she gravitates towards Cain because he opposes Obama’s healthcare plan, which Cain says goes against individual rights. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in his hometown of Atlanta, agreed in part Friday, ruling Congress overstepped its power by requiring individuals to buy health insurance, a decision that contradicts rulings by other federal courts.
Although Cain wasn’t expected to finish in the top three in poll, he ended in fifth place with 1456 votes.
But Cain said his placement in the straw poll doesn’t matter.
“We will keep going in this campaign for the nomination and presidency if I finish dead last,” Cain said, adding he wasn’t going to finish last.
His supporters, Cain said, “don’t defect.”
Boswell has high hopes for Cain in the straw poll, but recognized the competitiveness of the field.
“If nothing else, he would make a great vice president,” he said.
On a stage at the Iowa straw poll, U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., had the opportunity to preach his political policies and ideology as well as give his supporters a taste of his musical abilities. His sons joined in with his band members as McCotter played “Takin’ Care of Business.”
And that is what McCotter said he plans to do, if elected president. McCotter has said that cutting taxes will allow credit to flow throughout the economy, leaving room for expansion and job creation.
“People think that somehow raising taxes will bring us back to prosperity,” McCotter said during an interview with Detroit Fox News. Demanding that Congress stop “thinking in an economic coffin,” McCotter focused primarily on financial reform for stabilizing the economy.
As the day went on at the straw poll, Iowans wandered from each candidate’s tent enjoying live music and BBQ. Supporters gathered free promotional merchandise plastered with candidate names and logos. The McCotter campaign was a much quieter scene. Less than 30 people lingered near the stage eating red, white and blue popsicles.
When asked if expected to win the straw poll, McCotter explained that the Straw Poll was only his introduction into this presidential race. The results of voting would not stop McCotter from continuing his campaign through Iowa and into New Hampshire. McCotter says his campaign had not paid anyone to come and did not provide buses to bring supporters in.
Prior to the results, McCotter gave a fiery speech about small government and independence. “You cannot empower an individual woman by making them dependent upon another person. That is wrong.”
“The fallacy of the welfare state is, is that [it] tempts those who are self-reliant to trade their liberties and their property for false state benefits and security.”
“When any Democrat tells you that they are progressive, please correct them,” said McCotter. “They are not progressive, they are regressive.”
To read more about the straw poll, read Straw Poll Hoopla Says Little about Candidates’ Qualifications
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(Laura Arny and Emily Hoerner, IowaWatch web managers and staff writers, did the page layout)