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Bachmann wins Ames straw poll, Pawlenty faces decision (Politico)

AMES, Iowa — Riding a surge of support from social conservatives, Michele Bachmann claimed victory Saturday at the Ames GOP straw poll — a triumph that will cement her status as the Iowa frontrunner.

The third-term Minnesota congresswoman won 4,823 votes, narrowly edging out Ron Paul, who got 4,671 votes.

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“You have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president,” Bachmann exclaimed to a swarm of supporters and reporters after the results were announced. “This was a wonderful down-payment on taking the country back.”

Tim Pawlenty, who had spent most of the last month and much of his war chest here in an attempt to win Ames, came in a distant third with 2,293 votes – a disappointing finish that may spell the end of his campaign. In a statement issued immediately after the results were announced, though, Pawlenty said the campaign was “just beginning.”

On a mild summer day, 16,892 Iowans cast ballots on the campus here at Iowa State University. That was an increase of nearly 3,000 votes from the 2007 straw poll and an indication of the enthusiasm Iowa Republicans have going into next year’s election.

“It means people are very concerned about the direction of the country,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) of the surge from four years ago.

Rick Santorum came in fourth, with 1,657 votes, a small margin ahead of Herman Cain, who got 1,456 votes.

Mitt Romney, the national GOP frontrunner and Ames winner in 2007, didn’t contest this year’s straw poll but still captured 567 votes.

In a sign of the reshaped Republican race, that was less than what Rick Perry received. The Texas governor, who announced his candidacy today in South Carolina, won 718 write-in votes.

But if Perry wants to eventually take Romney on head-to-head it appears he’ll have to first confront Bachmann in Iowa. The two will face off Sunday in Waterloo, when both speak at a county GOP dinner in what will be Perry’s first trip to the Hawkeye State as a candidate.

In less than two months since announcing her candidacy in her native Waterloo, the Minnesotan congresswoman rapidly climbed in the polls here and won a passionate following among the Christian conservatives who are a pillar of the Iowa GOP. Bachmann benefited, too, among fiscal conservatives from her intense opposition to raising the debt ceiling — the central political issue in the weeks leading up to the straw poll.

“I think it says a lot about constitutional conservatism,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of her closest friends in Congress. “It says a lot about the tea party. It says a lot about the social conservative agenda — life and marriage — and the fiscal issues too. She’s taken a strong stand against raising the debt ceiling. Others disagree with that position but it held up well here.”

Bachmann also never missed an opportunity to remind Iowans that she had been born and spent her early years in the state. On the stump and in TV ads leading up to the straw poll, she recalled her Waterloo childhood.

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