AMES, Iowa -- Michele Bachmann has won the 2011 Ames straw poll with a narrow plurality over Ron Paul. The 16,878 votes cast represent a turnout up around 17 percent from 2007. And that year was also a relatively similar fight -- two campaigns dumping cash for a victory (Romney and Brownback), but nothing quite like the epic spending of 1999's Forbes-Bush battle. Bachmann becomes the first woman to win here; the closest any woman had come before was Elizabeth Dole's sorority-powered third place showing in 1999.
Before the votes were tallied, Mike Huckabee talked to a couple reporters about the victory or doom that might ensue.
"Michele came in, probably, as the hands on-favorite," said Huckabee. "If she wins, no surprise." But as to Pawlenty: "It's harder for him. If he wins, he comes out here on fire." Come in third, though, and he "has to go to his donors" and explain why he's still viable.
But Pawlenty played a game similar to the one Huckabee played in the run-up to 2007. He kept expectations low, with campaign staff telling reporters that polling better than 6th place would be a victory. And he did better than that, avoiding a loss to someone like Rick Santorum, who is pinning a lot on Iowa.
What else do the numbers say? Bachmann's camp distributed more than 6000 tickets, ending the day in a frenzy of giving and buying. Paul's camp distributed less than that, more than 5000. So for every six people who took a ticket from Bachmann's camp, one voted for someone else. For every 25 people who took a ticket from Paul, only one voted for someone else. Paul's 4671 votes represent a higher total than Mitt Romney's winning number from 2007, and they are more than three times what Paul got that year. But he doesn't get the headline.
Rick Perry did very well, polling sixth, despite only entering the race today. How did he do that? Well, the grassroots group had bodies all over the straw poll, and Perry's announcement speech was replayed on TVs throughout the day for anyone who wanted to see it. One Republican source told me that Perry lucked out when his name was kept off the ballot because he hadn't announced yet. With no ballot line, this looks like a surge of support; when Fred Thompson was kept on the ballot line in 2007, despite waffling on whether he'd enter the race, he polled a weak 201 votes.
You'll notice that there weren't many non-Perry write-in votes. Sarah Palin made no effort to move voters for the poll, and Peter Singleton, her unofficial grassroots organizer, made no effort either, although he did stop by the event.
"We'll meet the other candidates on the field," he said, "and we'll beat them."
Michele Bachmann - 4823 (28.6%)
Ron Paul - 4671 (27.7%)
Tim Pawlenty - 2293 (13.6%)
Rick Santorum - 1657 (9.8%)
Herman Cain - 1456 (8.6%)
Rick Perry (write-ins) - 718 (4.3%)
Mitt Romney - 567 (3.4%)
Newt Gingrich - 385 (2.3%)
Other write-ins - 162 (1.0%)
Jon Huntsman 69 (0.4%)
Thaddeus McCotter 35 (0.2%)