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Bachmann Passes Test Of Iowa's Straw Poll

JOHN YDSTIE, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

The results of yesterday's Iowa straw poll are in, and Minnesota Republicans are at the center of the news. This morning, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced on ABC's "This Week" that he is ending his campaign. Pawlenty was a distant third in the Iowa polling. Another governor, Rick Perry of Texas, officially announced yesterday that he's entering the race. We'll have a report on that in a few moments.

But first, we go to Ames, Iowa, where Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the straw poll less than two months into her campaign.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the straw poll is considered a bellwether event and one measure of a presidential candidate's strength.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Nearly 17,000 Iowa voters waited in long lines to cast their straw poll ballots on the campus of Iowa State University.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Single file. Single file, driver's license and your ticket.

ELLIOTT: Rodney Skinner, of Ottumwa, was the first in line. The 61-year-old Vietnam veteran had been waiting for two hours to participate in this Iowa political tradition.

RODNEY SKINNER: We literally decide which way it's going to go.

ELLIOTT: The poll doesn't always pick the winner of next year's Iowa's caucuses, let alone the eventual nominee. But it certainly helps winnow the field. Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn revealed this year's pick.

MATT STRAWN: The winner of the 2011 Iowa straw poll is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.


ELLIOTT: Bachmann received more than 4,800 votes.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: (Republican, Minnesota) Thank you, guys. God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: But anyway, God bless you.

BACHMANN: Thank you. Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thanks for all. You go, girl.

ELLIOTT: She gave credit to her fellow native Iowans when she emerged from her campaign bus, after the vote tally.

BACHMANN: This is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012.


ELLIOTT: Bachmann's strong finish here is a testament to the grassroots support she has from religious voters, a group she reached out to during her speech yesterday.

BACHMANN: in Iowa, we are social conservative and we will never be ashamed of being social conservative.


ELLIOTT: One cloud on Bachmann's day was Texas Congressman Ron Paul's close second place finish, just 152 votes behind her - less than a percentage point of difference. Paul bowed to the Iowa preference for social issues in his speech yesterday.


Representative RON PAUL: (Republican, Texas): But today, I'm going to emphasize something slightly different from just the cause of liberty, because there is something that precedes liberty. And that is life.

ELLIOTT: Paul supporter Michael DeMay(ph) of Davenport voted in the straw poll for the first time, driven here by his belief that Paul's economic message is what the country needs right now.

MICHAEL DEMAY: Well, I think Ron Paul is, to beg the term, ahead of his time back in 2008. The world has caught up to where Ron is now.

ELLIOTT: Mitt Romney, long considered the national front runner, didn't campaign in the straw poll and finished with a paltry 567 votes. Rick Santorum and Herman Cain were ahead of him, rounding out the fourth and fifth places. Santorum called his effort: The Little Engine That Could Campaign. Cain, meanwhile, appeared to be having the most fun.

HERMAN CAIN: (Republican presidential candidate) (Singing) Ooh-hoo hold on a little while longer, hold on a little while longer. Hold on...

ELLIOTT: Cain belted out this gospel to backed-up by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on bass.


CAIN: As they say in the Baptist Church: Let everybody say, amen.


ELLIOTT: One candidate who wasn't singing, praying or dishing up food at the Iowa straw poll was Texas Governor Rick Perry, who officially opened his campaign yesterday. His name wasn't even on the ballot. Still, he snagged 713 write-in votes.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Ames, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.