Reporting from Ames, Iowa —
Thousands of Iowans streamed onto the campus of Iowa State University to vote in the traditional Straw Poll, a contest that could, for the first time, shine some light on the 2012 Republican presidential field.
They came by bus, by car, from all over the state, escorted by volunteers for the competing candidates. Orange-clad Michele Bachmann volunteers were legion, as were green-clad Tim Pawlenty supporters.
Bachmann and Pawlenty are expected to compete with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) for top honors at the poll, with other candidates, such as businessman Herman Cain and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum hoping to give their struggling campaigns a shot in the arm.
Photos: Scenes From Iowa -Republicans at the State Fair
Mitt Romney is also on the ballot in Ames, but hasn’t campaigned much in Iowa and isn’t on the grounds Saturday. Rick Perry, expected to make his presidential ambitions clear in a speech later in the day in South Carolina, is not on the ballot, but may receive write-in votes.
The day may be most crucial for Pawlenty, who has invested heavily in this state. The former Minnesota governor has made winning this state’s caucuses a linchpin of his candidacy, but he has seen himself fall behind the charismatic Bachmann.
The Straw Poll is widely viewed as a test of a campaign’s organizational strength—and that’s where Pawlenty may hold an advantage. The question remains whether it will be enough to put him over the top. His campaign has maintained that he needs to finish near the “front of the pack” to demonstrate his viability as a presidential prospect.
Bachmann is banking on enthusiasm, while Paul’s supporters have shown in the past that they can dominate small pools of voters such as this.
The results of the poll are expected to be known late Saturday afternoon, after all of the candidates have had a chance to address the crowds.