Iowans Pick GOP Favorites In Straw Poll

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Iowa reporting on the Republican straw poll.

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DAVID GREENE, host: This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene, in for Guy Raz.

The Republican presidential campaign got serious today. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll but only barely. She edged out Ron Paul for the top spot. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry made his bid official during a speech in South Carolina. We'll hear from our reporter in Charleston in a moment, but first to NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea, who is in Ames, Iowa. Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi, David.

GREENE: So break it down for us, Don. We have Bachmann, born in Iowa, wins the straw poll but not by much.

GONYEA: Exactly. She got about 20 - little over 25 percent of the votes cast. (Unintelligible) 823. She finished 152 votes ahead of Ron Paul.

GREENE: Not much.

GONYEA: For Bachmann, though, this is validation. We knew there was a lot of buzz about her. We didn't know if she had the kind of organization that could turn out enough votes to win an event that is really, really, you know, determined by who's got a great organization. She did that, she can claim she's the Ames straw poll winner, that's not nothing.

Of course, Ron Paul, though, also a really great second place showing for him. And he's got to feel very good about that as much as (unintelligible) to have won.

GREENE: Now, Bachmann was expected to win the straw poll, as you said, but then we get this news from South Carolina, which wasn't unexpected, but Texas Governor Rick Perry in the race. Aren't Perry and Michele Bachmann sort of going after the same voters?

GONYEA: They are both kind of positioning themselves as the anti-Mitt Romney. They both want to compete with his status as the national front-runner, and they both have acclaimed to be able to make that (unintelligible). Both go after Christian conservative voters and evangelicals.

Listen to this little clip of Bachmann's speech today. Again, this is before we knew the result. But you can see who she's going for. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF IOWA STRAW POLL)

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: In Iowa, we are social conservatives, and we will never be ashamed of being social conservatives.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GREENE: Probably won't be the last time we'll be hearing language like that from Michele Bachmann. Well, let me ask you about another name from Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor. He finished his third - not the showing he was expected - I mean, where does he go from here?

GONYEA: Yeah. And he's (unintelligible) the pack, you know? He's, you know, (unintelligible) both behind Bachmann, almost as far behind Ron Paul. But again, this is the Ames straw poll. This is not the Iowa caucus. He has to be disappointed, but he finished in third place. He obviously has some things he needs to do, that he needs to work on. But a third place finish is hardly fatal to his campaign.

GREENE: Well, look down the list for us. Any other surprises?

GONYEA: Well, we have Mitt Romney who was on the ballot but didn't really contest the straw poll, coming way down, seventh place, only 567 votes. Ahead of him, somebody who wasn't on the ballot, Rick Perry. Perry was a write-in, and he got 718 votes. So he has to be (unintelligible).

GREENE: Trouble for Romney, or because he wasn't setting any expectations for the straw poll, he can sort of just get past this?

GONYEA: No. The sense is that Romney was going to be happy with as few votes that he could get at the Ames straw poll.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: I mean, he's basically said, I'm not competing in any straw poll. They're not worth the time and the money and everything else. He is really looking for, you know, forward to the actual caucus and primary season. And frankly, he's been to Iowa before. He won the Ames straw poll four years ago, but it didn't help him win the caucus. He's focusing on New Hampshire and South Carolina more.

GREENE: In just a few seconds we have left, how do you summarize this day? You said it's not nothing. What is it?

GONYEA: (Unintelligible) it sets the field for the Iowa caucuses. And if you finished first or second in the Ames straw poll, history shows us that you've got a good shot at winning the caucus. Of course, Rick Perry will stir things up a little bit.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Ames, Iowa. Thanks a lot, Don.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

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