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Ames straw poll: Contenders make closing arguments

August 13, 2011|By James Oliphant and Tom Hamburger
(Scott Olson/Getty Images )

Reporting from Ames, Iowa — Six contenders for the Republican presidential nomination made their pitches to die-hard conservative voters Saturday, and while the messages may have been different, they shared a common theme.

“Get the government off our backs!” Tim Pawlenty told a packed arena on the campus of Iowa State University.

Pawlenty was fighting to keep his campaign afloat—and needed a strong showing in the traditional Ames straw poll. As he and the other candidates spoke, thousands of voters lined up to vote, with the results expected late Saturday afternoon.

Photos: Scenes From Iowa -Republicans at the State Fair

In a sense, though, the real action in the GOP field was far away in South Carolina, where Rick Perry declared his candidacy for the nomination and cast a Texas-sized shadow over the straw poll.

In Ames, volunteers for the candidates cajoled residents to vote. Waiting in line, Geoff Verkade of Boone, Iowa, said Michele Bachmann was his choice.

“We’ve had it with old-school Republicans,” he said.

Bachmann had erected a large tent, and a line of her supporters snaked across the coliseum parking lot.

David Hyde of Waterloo, Iowa, was attending his first straw poll, and said he was inspired by the candidate who not only reflects his values but appears to have won his heart: "Michele Bachmann has real charisma and has proven she'll stand up for what she believes in," he said.

He tapped his foot as country musician Randy Travis played inside the Bachmann tent entertaining the capacity crowd who were waiting to hear from the candidate.

Inside the arena, Bachmann arrived to the Elvis Presley song “A Little Less Conversation.” The Minnesota congresswoman spoke at length about her roots in Iowa; she was born in Waterloo.

She urged undeclared attendees to come with her to vote in the poll. “I’m asking for your vote to be the next president of the United States and take your voice to the White House," she said.

But while Bachmann received a raucous ovation, it was nothing like the wave of adoration that greeted Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian. Paul’s supporters, clad in red T-shirts that read “I Voted Ron Paul’ seemed to be everywhere—and they roared as he called for an end to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a return to the gold standard, and railed against the “big banks, big corporations.”

“It’s time to restore freedom to America,” Paul said.

Businessman Herman Cain, a "tea party" favorite and a rousing speaker, was also greeted warmly by the crowd. He responded in kind, praising the conservative and "tea party" activists in the room.

“This giant has awakened,” Cain said, “and it’s not going back to sleep.”

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