Bachmann’s Iowa Triumph

She becomes the first woman to win the Ames Straw Poll. Kirsten Powers on how her fans love her authenticity.

08.13.11 11:18 PM ET

Submit to this: Just 48 days after she launched her long-shot presidential bid, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann came out on top in Iowa's Ames Straw Poll. She also shattered a glass ceiling in politics: Bachmann is the first woman to win the poll since it was launched in 1979.

Bachmann took 4,823 votes out of nearly 17,000 cast. Ron Paul was second at 4,671 votes, only 152 below Bachmann. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was a distant third with 2,293 votes, despite campaigning hard to win the poll.

With this win in Ames and two solid debate performances under her belt, Bachmann now turns her eyes to two other early-primary states, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Building on her Iowa momentum, she is kicking off a bus tour to the Palmetto State on Tuesday.

Bachmann’s team thus far has demonstrated an unusual level of organization for such a young campaign. Her operation wisely poured all its effort into Iowa to grab the victor’s crown at Ames, and it paid off. The campaign is driven by a laser-focused candidate who appears incapable of being rattled, even as she fended off attacks from her erstwhile rival Pawlenty during Thursday's Iowa GOP debate.

Despite an onslaught of unfavorable media coverage parsing her religious and political views, Bachmann exudes boundless energy and optimism. Her supporters are enthusiastic, buoyed mostly by what they see as her authenticity, a rare quality in a national candidate. That she represents a neighboring state and was born and spent part of her childhood in Waterloo, Iowa, didn’t hurt her in Ames either.

Bachmann brags often of her “titanium spine,” and her supporters view that as her secret weapon. No matter how much heat she gets for a viewpoint, they say she never backs down as so many other candidates do.

The biggest threat to her now is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who just joined the fray. An evangelical and fiscal conservative like Bachmann, he occupies a space similar to hers, but with the executive experience she lacks. 

Also looming large over the GOP presidential field is one Sarah Palin, who decided that in a very hot August, a nice place to spend time would be the Iowa State Fair, where she attracted adoring mobs as she and her husband, Todd, wandered through the fairground. I asked a staunch Bachmann supporter what she would do if Palin jumped into the race. “That would be very, very hard,” she said. “I love Michele, but Sarah has a lot to offer too.” After pondering it more, she said, “I made a commitment to Michele, so I would have to stay with her.”

Critics of the Ames poll point out that it’s rare for the winner of the straw poll to wind up in the White House. In fact, the only time it has happened was in 1999, when Texas Gov. George W. Bush won in Ames and went on to capture the presidency.

Something tells me those are odds Bachmann will happily take.