Michele Bachmann edges out Ron Paul for victory in Iowa Straw Poll

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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AMES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann edged out Texas Rep. Ron Paul Saturday afternoon at the Iowa Straw Poll by just 152 votes.

Of the 16,892 ballots cast, Bachmann won with 4,823 while Paul collected 4,671.

While the straw poll isn’t always the best indicator of who will go on to win the Hawkeye State’s caucuses, it does give a glimpse into how well a presidential campaign can organize its grassroots support.

Meanwhile, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty placed a distant third with 2,293 votes, followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 1,657 votes and businessman Herman Cain at 1,456.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was not on the ballot but just announced his candidacy today, came in sixth place with 718 votes, followed by former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney with 567 votes.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took just 385 votes, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had 69, and Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter placed last with 35.

Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, scored a win after giving away free tickets and entertaining thousands of supporters inside a large indoor tent. (RELATED: Perry wins straw poll … in Alabama)

Her win did not come as a complete surprise to observers. Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad who has been to four straw polls, tweeted early in the day that he’s “never seen a line as long as Bachmann’s.”

In a rousing speech, Bachmann emphasized her Iowa roots — she was born in the town of Waterloo and spent her early years in Iowa — even throwing out the phrase, “from one Iowan to another.”

“All that we need to do to take the country back in 2012 is right here in this room in Ames, Iowa,” Bachmann told a raucous crowd.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul tweaked his usual “freedom” stump speech to include a pro-life pitch, something that likely went over well with conservative voters.

“Today I’m going to emphasize something slightly different than just the cause of liberty,” Paul said.

“Because there is something that precedes liberty, and that is life,” Paul continued. “I believe in a very limited role of government, but the prime reason that government exists in a free society is to protect liberty, but also to protect life — and I mean all life.”

Paul’s campaign tent was positioned in prime real estate at the straw poll, in a large space near the entrance.

In a statement, Pawlenty congratulated Bachmann and said, “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.”

Santorum, who came in fourth place, emphasized his social conservative credentials during a speech Saturday, and criticized the media for paying more attention to other “shiny engines” running for president.

He and his family have been giving out hamburgers and homemade jam to voters.

“This is the ‘little engine that could’ campaign,” Santorum said, referencing the childrens’ book. “They told us we had no chance.”

Santorum has likely emphasized social issues more than any other candidate, and he made that clear to the conservative audience here.

“Many people have said the social issues are not important in this campaign,” he said. “Well, I’ve gone out and talked about all the issues — yes, even the social issues … I will not back down on the sanctity of life.”

A spokeswoman for Cain, Ellen Carmichael, told TheDC that Cain is not discouraged by his fifth-place finish. She also said the campaign spent less than $100,000 on the event.

Bachmann plans to capitalize on her win by appearing on five Sunday morning news shows, including CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation” and “Fox News Sunday.”