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michele bachmann Michele Bachmann holds up a newspaper with a headline citing her first place finish in the Ames Straw Poll at a meet-the-candidate fundraiser in Waterloo, Iowa, on August 14. (Photo: Chris Fitzgerald/Candidate Photos/Newscom)

Election 2012: Michele Bachmann Wins Ames Straw Poll

Iowa vote first test for GOP hopefuls

By Elena Hildebrandt | August 17 , 2011

On Saturday, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa. The mock election was sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa and was the first major test of the candidates' appeal heading into the 2012 Presidential election.

"Thank you everyone. We did this together," Rep. Bachmann said to a crowd of supporters after her victory. "What we saw happen today is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012."

Texas congressman Ron Paul finished second with only 152 fewer votes than Rep. Bachmann. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty finished third, followed by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and Michigan congressman Thaddeus McCotter.

Not all of the candidates were in Iowa, however. Bachmann, Paul, Pawlenty, Santorum, Cain, and McCotter were the only candidates who officially competed in the straw poll. The other Republicans who received votes did so through write-in ballots.

With only six hopeful Republican candidates for president participating, turnout for the straw poll was low compared to past years. But the day was full of excitement, enthusiastic supporters, and surprises.

The day got off to an early start. Candidates spent much of the morning meeting voters. McCotter even played a little guitar for his supporters. But the main focus of the day was the speech each candidate would give to the voters.

Each candidate spoke about their unique skill set and why they were the best person for the job. The main focus for each candidate was replacing President Barack Obama in the White House.

"President Obama just doesn't get it," Pawlenty said. "He's like a manure spreader in a wind storm."

After all of the candidates spoke, it was time to vote.

In order to vote, each voter was required to purchase a ticket. This ticket allowed them to put their support behind one of the six participating candidates. Voters could also write in another candidate that was not in the race yet or was not participating in the poll. Once a voter placed his ballot in the box, his finger was painted blue to ensure each person only voted once.

"We want the most qualified and experienced candidate for president, and that's Michelle Bachmann. She knows exactly what she's doing," 13-year-old Martell P. said.

Supporters of other candidates were just as confident that their choice for President would be the best one for the job.

"I'm supporting [Thaddeus McCotter], even though he is the black horse, because he's the smartest person in the room," Christopher Rants said. "He's already speaking about decisions we'll have to make in three years, before anyone else. If he is elected, he will know exactly how to turn this country around, in the right direction."

At the end of the long day, Rep. Bachmann received the most votes. Her victory gave her momentum as she begins campaigning in other parts of the country. For other candidates, like Santorum and Rep. McCotter, the straw poll was an opportunity to build name recognition and grow their support base.

But the straw poll also dashed the hopes of one candidate. Pawlenty dropped out of the presidential race shortly after the straw poll. Even though he finished in third place, he had spent too much time and money in Iowa to not finish in first or second.

"What I brought forward, I thought, was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing [as] a two-term governor of a blue state," Pawlenty said on ABC's This Week on Sunday. "But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different."

The Iowa Republican Straw Poll began in 1979. Iowans come to Ames, Iowa for the event to hear candidates speak and cast votes for who they want as the GOP nominee for President. It is the largest mock election in the country. And while relatively few voters attend, the straw poll is the first test of a candidate's support among voters.

"This is my first time here, at the Iowa Republican Straw Poll, but I've been wanting to come here for a long, long time," said 73-year-old Dory Lee Calendar. "I came here today to listen to the candidates speak, see what kind of people they are, and vote for the one I believe will be able to run the country the way it should be."

Check out Kid Reporter Alysa Goethe's report from the Republican debate held in Ames, Iowa, two days before the Ames Straw Poll.

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