UPDATE: Michele Bachmann has won the Iowa Straw Poll. Ron Paul placed a close second. Tim Pawlenty finished a distant third.
The vote totals were as follows:
1. Bachmann (4,823)
2. Paul (4,671)
3. Pawlenty (2,293)
4. Santorum (1,657)
5. Cain (1,456)
6. Perry (718)
7. Romney (567)
8. Gingrich (385)
9. Huntsman (69)
10. McCotter (35)
AMES, Iowa — Today’s the biggest day of the Republican race for the White House so far.
The Iowa Straw Poll is here.
And the event this year is bound to offer us some surprises. Ask people in Ames who they think will win the much-publicized event today, and there’s no clear answer.
“I really am having a hard time trying to figure out who is gonna come out [on top],” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told The Daily Caller outside the voting hall at Hilton Coliseum Saturday morning.
Huckabee came in second place at the 2008 straw poll and went on to win the Iowa caucuses, but ultimately lost the GOP nomination to John McCain.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that’s just sort of dominated it at this point,” he said. “And I think there are three or four people who could win. I really do.”
Huckabee, who opted not to mount another run for the White House, will play guitar at the campaign tents of several candidates today, he said, including Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Thad McCotter.
“It’s a lot more fun, a lot less pressure,” Huckabee said with a laugh.
Candidates participating in Saturday’s event, a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party, spend lots of money busing supporters in to vote — giving away free tickets, food and music in hopes of winning support.
And while the poll itself isn’t always an indicator of who will go on to win the state’s caucuses next year, it is a demonstration of organizational strength with consequences for the race.
Poor finishes for some candidates, especially former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has expended considerable resources and energy on the Hawkeye State, could be devastating. And a top finish could reinvigorate any number of struggling campaigns.
Only candidates who paid for tent space at the event will be allowed to speak to the activists who show up to Ames for the poll. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks first, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and businessman Herman Cain.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been campaigning in Iowa, and will appear on the straw poll ballot, but did not purchase tent space. Neither former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney nor former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is participating, though straw poll voters will have the choice to vote for them.
There is also a write-in option, which could lead to votes for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to declare his entry into the race Saturday.
Most of the candidates have been in Iowa all week campaigning across the state in the lead up to the straw poll. They all also gathered Thursday night at Iowa State for a debate. (RELATED: Palin’s pick: ‘Anybody but Obama,’ … maybe even me)
They have also been making the obligatory stops at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, where a fried pork chop on a stick goes hand-in-hand with politics. Bachmann made a quick pitch to Iowans there on Friday afternoon.
“With your help tomorrow, at Ames, Iowa, we’re going to make Barack Obama a one-term president,” Bachmann told several hundred people as she spoke from the Des Moines Register “soapbox.”
Bachmann’s campaign, running an efficient operation focused on gathering information from voters, on Saturday is entertaining supporters inside a large air-conditioned tent.
On another side of the Hilton Coliseum, Pawlenty’s campaign is serving barbecue and giving away Dairy Queen blizzards.
Another candidate to watch Saturday is Ron Paul, who has run for president before and has experience busing his ardent supporters to the event. Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign chairman, predicted in an interview that the straw poll will show the political world that the Texas congressman “can run with the big boys.”
“I think we’re going to have a real strong showing,” Benton told The Daily Caller after Thursday night’s debate. Benton said Paul has benefited from the experience of prior runs and that his campaign has greatly improved.
Paul benefits from having the largest location just outside the voting hall.
“We have a vastly superior organization,” Benton said.
Santorum, who has traveled across the state, predicted Saturday on Fox News that he’ll surprise people. His campaign has splattered campaign signs all across Ames, rivaling only Paul. His family is passing out homemade jam to visitors and grilling burgers.
“I feel very confident people will say ‘this guy is in the mix,'” Santorum said.
Next to Santorum’s tent is McCotter, who has fewer people in attendance than other campaigns, but has the advantage of a large stage for music.
Cain’s campaign handed out Godfather’s Pizza to those who showed up, a tribute to the company Cain once ran.
In an interview with TheDC at the state fair on Friday, Cain downplayed the significance of how he might finish in the straw poll.
“People keep trying to pin me down to ‘are we going to finish first, second, third, fourth or fifth,’” he said. “It’s not that kind of poll.”
Cain continued: “So whether we have 1,000 people who show up, two thousand, [or] one hundred, I want them to leave very excited about this campaign. That’s our main objective.”
UPDATE: Bachmann wins straw poll, Paul places second. Pawlenty comes in third. Developing…