AMES, Iowa-Michele Bachmann finished first in the Iowa straw poll with 4,823 of nearly 17,000 votes. Ron Paul's enthusiastic followers gave him a strong second-place finish at 4,671 ballots. Tim Pawlenty came in third at 2,293, while social conservative Rick Santorum got the fourth-place finish that he said would be his highest expectation. He had 1,657 votes, while Herman Cain finished fifth with 1,456.
The event itself is a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa. It wasn't Iraq, but voters streamed out a back door of the Hilton Coliseum throughout the afternoon Saturday with forefingers dyed a bright blue-the sign that they had already cast a ballot. Paul and Bachmann supporters wore red or blue shirts, while Pawlenty's backers stood out in green, perhaps a nod to Iowa's agriculture.
A write-in Rick Perry effort placed him in sixth with 718 votes, while Mitt Romney came in seventh with 567. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was eighth with 385. At the rear were Jon Huntsman at 69 votes and Thaddeus McCotter with 35.
Inside the Hilton Coliseum, each candidate had one more chance to sway voters with a campaign speech, while the voting lines were open for about six hours. Outside, lines stretched across the pavement to get into candidate tents, which offered food and live music.
Santorum, the first to speak, swayed at least one undecided voter, Rachel Martin of Ames. Rose Kendall made the drive from Burlington in eastern Iowa to vote for Santorum: "He's a strong family man, and comes across as a true and honest person."
Larry Matson of Maxwell said he favored Bachmann because she's "bold enough to say no." Cliff Robinett of Madrid also voted for Bachmann: "She's gutsy."
Dan Carlton backed Ron Paul and said that his choice was a shift for him in the past four years. He became convinced Paul would "stand up" to the spending in Washington and return the focus from foreign soil to America.
Cain won the vote of Jason Goldsberry of Ames: "He's not an insider." Kristy Ortiz, who drove from Council Bluffs on the western border of the state to vote for Cain, held a similar view: "He's not a politician."
Bill Wenig of Pleasant Hill said he voted for Pawlenty's experience and trustworthiness, then captured the state fair spirit of the event: "A man who serves Famous Dave's [barbecue] has to be a good guy," he joked. Lauren Nitzschke of Cedar Falls also voted for Pawlenty: "He's a strong leader, and I agree with his values."
Elizabeth Davidson of Bettendorf, a volunteer for the Republican Party of Iowa, cast a ballot for Romney. "I think he's the most electable and has the best chance to beat Obama," she said.
As the afternoon wore down, Pawlenty returned to the stage in his rented area to join the Christian music group Sonic Flood and thank supporters once more. He promised to forge on in Iowa, and appear often in the state in the weeks ahead. Few people, except for some reporters and the candidates who finish first or second, see the Iowa straw poll as decisive-but fundraising is harder for the candidates who don't meet expectations.