Thousands of people are attending the Iowa Republican Party's Ames Straw Poll fundraiser, where several GOP presidential candidates are actively competing for support in the non-binding poll.
The straw poll is not often a good predictor of who will win the nomination, but there is a tradition of campaigns living and dying by the results.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has spent about $1 million trying to become the favorite candidate of Iowa Republicans. Many political analysts say if Pawlenty fails to do well in the poll, his support will dry up and he'll be forced to end his presidential campaign.
Jeremy Davis who lives in Ames, Iowa is serving as Pawlenty's Story County campaign chair. His job is to round up Pawlenty votes. Davis said Pawlenty needs to finish first or second and predicted that will happen, giving Pawlenty's campaign a much-needed boost.
Davis said a big part of his pitch in turning out voters for Pawlenty has been the allure of free music and free food at Pawlenty's campaign headquarters tent near where the balloting is taking place.
"That's what's getting a lot of people excited across the board, just the entertainment value," said Davis who was wearing a green Pawlenty 2012 campaign shirt.
The big draw at Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign tent is country music star Randy Travis. Bachmann is also supplying her supporters with free food and drink.
Bachmann supporter Jerilyn Banweelden predicted Bachmann would win the straw poll. She and several of her sisters were wearing red Bachmann 2012 t-shirts.
"I brought all five of my sisters and we all voted for her that could and we just think that she would be a good president for America," said Banweelden.
A war of words between Pawlenty and Bachmann dominated news coverage of Thursday's GOP debate in Ames. The next day Pawlenty said he thought the sparring gave him a boost going into the straw poll. Banweelden said she disagreed and that she thought Pawlenty's tone with Bachmann was driving support to Bachmann.
Both Bachmann and Pawlenty say they will continue on with their presidential campaigns regardless of the Ames Straw Poll results.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann each gave speeches Saturday afternoon in the Iowa State University arena where the straw poll is taking place.
Pawlenty sounded hoarse from all the campaigning. He played up his experience and accomplishments as Minnesota governor.
"I don't just talk about it, we get the job done," said Pawlenty appealing for votes in the poll.
"I want you to do everything you can here in the closing hours of the Ames Straw Poll to get support to my campaign. I want to look you in the eye, each and every one of you in this arena and tell you, I know what this country needs, I understand our conservative principles, I understand what needs to be done and I'm not just going to stand up here and give you the words, you can take it to the bank, I will restore American's promise and lead this country to a better, brighter, stronger place."
Bachmann's introductory video sought to capitalize on her northeastern Iowa roots. She was born in Waterloo and played that up during her remarks as well.
"Our campaign is 48 days old and in the last 48 days I've been all across the four corners of Iowa an all points in between. I was born in Waterloo," said Bachmann.
In making her plea for support Bachmann talked about her business background.
"I get it, how to turn the economy around. I get it, how to create jobs. We actually think it's a good idea to turn a profit."
Bachmann wrapped up saying she was headed to vote and that anyone was welcome to accompany her and cast their ballots along side her.
GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll of GOP presidential candidates. She received more votes than any other candidate, including fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty. Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished second.
Here are the results from the Iowa GOP:
1. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (4823, 28.55%)
2. Congressman Ron Paul (4671, 27.65%)
3. Governor Tim Pawlenty (2293, 13.57%)
4. Senator Rick Santorum (1657, 9.81%)
5. Herman Cain(1456, 8.62%)
6. Governor Rick Perry (718, 3.62%) write-in
7. Governor Mitt Romney (567, 3.36%)
8. Speaker Newt Gingrich (385, 2.28%)
9. Governor Jon Huntsman (69, 0.41%)
10. Congressman Thad McCotter (35, 0.21%)
11. Scattering (162, 0.96 %) Includes all those receiving votes at less than one-percent that were not on the ballot.
Bachmann held an impromptu news conference after she was declared the victor. She thanked supporters and seemed thrilled with the victory. She also talked about moving her campaign beyond Iowa. Bachmann will appear on five Sunday morning news shows tomorrow.
Update: Bachmann's campaign released this statement:
"I want to thank the people of Iowa for this tremendous victory. Together we sent a message that we intend to make President Obama a one-term president. The Iowa Straw Poll was a important first step in what will be a long race for the presidency. Now we turn our attention toward winning the Iowa Caucuses and taking our message of reining in wasteful spending, keeping taxes low, growing our economy and creating jobs to the people of New Hampshire, South Carolina and all 50 states."
Bachmann's victory makes her one of the front-runners to win Iowa's first in the nation precinct caucuses. It doesn't, however, mean she'll be considered a front-runner to win the GOP nomination. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, didn't actively work to win the Iowa Straw Poll. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who could also draw Tea Party members and Evangelicals from Bachmann, also announced that he's running for President. Another wild card is Sarah Palin, who said she's still considering a run for the White House.
Pawlenty will be forced to explain to supporters and potential donors how his campaign is still viable with Bachmann, Romney and Perry all receiving plenty of buzz among GOP activists. He also spent a lot of time and money in Iowa over the past few months.
Pawlenty and his campaign didn't respond to questions from MPR News. He released this statement after the results were posted:
"Congratulations to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for her victory in today's straw poll. We made progress in moving from the back of the pack into a competitive position for the caucuses, but we have a lot more work to do. This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a great campaign."
MPR's Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.(1 Comments)