In a presidential race scrambled a few hours earlier by the entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the results of the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann convincingly blew away her eight competitors Saturday.
Of the 16,892 votes cast during the day-long convention/carnival, Bachmann received 4,823 votes, edging out Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who received 4,671. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty came in third with fewer than half of the votes for Bachmann, garnering 2,293.
In a contest that had been cast as a head-to-head battle between Minnesota's two very different candidates, the results showed that Pawlenty's big-bucks tortoise strategy over the past two years wasn't able to surmount Bachmann's zippity hare-like strategy that has made her the new media's political figure of the week. For all of Pawlenty's careful groundwork, the obvious grassroots enthusiasm for Bachmann was too much to overcome.
In a quadrennial poll that is essentially a fundraiser for the Hawkeye State's GOP and has come to wield an inordinate amount of influence in Republican presidential politics. Although rarelly predictive of the party's eventual nominee, the poll has had the ability to drive candidates out of the race.
Pundits in recent days said that Pawlenty's survival depended on a strong showing in the poll, that unless he came in the top three finishers, his campaign was finished. There was no immediate reaction from the Bachmann campaign, but Pawlenty told the Associated Press that "we have a lot more work to do. We are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a great campaign."
In the days leading up to the poll, it was increasingly billed as a two-candidate showdown between an Iowa native (Bachmann) and the governor of the state just up the interstate (Pawlenty). But the big-footed entry of Perry into the race Saturday afternoon complicated the campaigns of both Minnesotans.
But Perry -- who received 718 write-in votes, good enough for sixth place in the poll -- is widely expected to peel off an unknown number of Bachmann's conservative evangelical supporters while undercutting Pawlenty's argument that his governmental executive experience makes him the most electable Republican candidate. Perry is the nation's longest-serving governor.
Even as the results of Saturday's straw poll are being digested (and regurgitated) by the nation's pundit class, Bachmann and Perry are headed for Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday -- which just happens to be Bachmann's hometown.