AMES, Iowa â Riding a surge of support from social conservatives, Michele Bachmann claimed victory Saturday at the Ames GOP straw poll â a triumph that will cement her status as the Iowa frontrunner. The third-term Minnesota congresswoman won 4,823 votes, narrowly edging out Ron Paul, who got 4,671 votes. âYou have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president,â Bachmann exclaimed to a swarm of supporters and reporters after the results were announced. âThis was a wonderful down-payment on taking the country back.â Tim Pawlenty, who had spent most of the last month and much of his war chest here in an attempt to win Ames, came in a distant third with 2,293 votes â a disappointing finish that may spell the end of his campaign. In a statement issued immediately after the results were announced, though, Pawlenty said the campaign was âjust beginning.â On a mild summer day, 16,892 Iowans cast ballots on the campus here at Iowa State University. That was an increase of nearly 3,000 votes from the 2007 straw poll and an indication of the enthusiasm Iowa Republicans have going into next yearâs election. âIt means people are very concerned about the direction of the country,â said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) of the surge from four years ago. Rick Santorum came in fourth, with 1,657 votes, a small margin ahead of Herman Cain, who got 1,456 votes. Mitt Romney, the national GOP frontrunner and Ames winner in 2007, didnât contest this yearâs straw poll but still captured 567 votes. In a sign of the reshaped Republican race, that was less than what Rick Perry received. The Texas governor, who announced his candidacy today in South Carolina, won 718 write-in votes. But if Perry wants to eventually take Romney on head-to-head it appears heâll have to first confront Bachmann in Iowa. The two will face off Sunday in Waterloo, when both speak at a county GOP dinner in what will be Perryâs first trip to the Hawkeye State as a candidate. In less than two months since announcing her candidacy in her native Waterloo, the Minnesotan congresswoman rapidly climbed in the polls here and won a passionate following among the Christian conservatives who are a pillar of the Iowa GOP. Bachmann benefited, too, among fiscal conservatives from her intense opposition to raising the debt ceiling â the central political issue in the weeks leading up to the straw poll. âI think it says a lot about constitutional conservatism,â said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of her closest friends in Congress. âIt says a lot about the tea party. It says a lot about the social conservative agenda â life and marriage â and the fiscal issues too. Sheâs taken a strong stand against raising the debt ceiling. Others disagree with that position but it held up well here.â Bachmann also never missed an opportunity to remind Iowans that she had been born and spent her early years in the state. On the stump and in TV ads leading up to the straw poll, she recalled her Waterloo childhood. âI tell people: everything I need to know in life I learned in Iowa,â Bachmann told a crowd of supporters on Saturday. âI have always been grateful than Iâm an Iowan, and I believe itâs time we had an Iowan in the White House.â Bachmannâs campaign was cautiously optimistic in the days leading up to the vote here, but grew more confident as the voting wore on Saturday afternoon, noting that they had given out over 6,000 tickets to attendees. Bachmann herself took a golf cart ride around the grounds that was equal parts get-out-the-vote effort and victory lap. Bachmann aides said they had about 40 buses bringing voters in from all over the state, but also relied on their supporters to car-pool. Her strength was apparent well before the voting ended as hundreds of Iowans, many of them in Bachmann shirts, waited in line outside her tent to get tickets, food and to see the entertainment she brought in. âIâve worked at three straw polls, and Iâve never seen it like this,â said Ruth Cousins, a Republican activist, nurse and home-school mother of three from Shell Rock, Iowa, who was volunteering at Bachmannâs registration table. âThe energy is amazing. Sheâs amazing. She just lights it up.â Those enduring the long lines â which snaked down the parking lot about a quarter-mile at their peak â said they like Bachmannâs fidelity to social conservatism. âSheâs very conservative, sheâs pro-life and she doesnât flip-flop on the issues, said Lee Guthrie, a farmer and non-denominational pastor from Menlo, Iowa, who sported a Bachmann hat as he slowly shuffled toward her tent. Bachmannâs campaign team crowed about their turnout. âIt shows that we have a lot of intensity,â said state Sen. Kent Sorenson, her top Iowa supporter. âTo do what we did in five weeks â it shows weâre much more organized than people give us credit for.â Iowa veterans, however, noted that straw poll success doesnât always translate into winning the caucuses. Four years ago, Romney easily defeated Mike Huckabee at Ames only to lose to the then-Arkansas governor by nine percent in January. âItâs going to be a big boost for her, but she canât assume it will automatically turn into delegates,â Grassley said. As she worked the ropeline besides the bus sheâs used to travel around Iowa following her victory, Bachmann said: âWeâre just out of the first gate â long way to go.â Her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, was more precise. âWe have to win the caucus here,â Rollins told reporters. âWeâre gonna work very, very hard here. And we will start to expand in South Carolina, New Hampshire, the early states.â Regarding Perry, Rollins said: âWe donât control anybody elseâs campaign. Whoeverâs in, we basically go against âem. You gotta beat âem all if youâre gonna win.â The entry of the Texan into the race and Bachmannâs straw poll success could also ensure Iowaâs relevance by determining who will be the chief rival to Romney, who didnât campaign in this yearâs straw poll and has been downplaying Iowa in his campaign. âThis means sheâs the one Rick Perry needs to beat to win Iowa and get to Romney,â said veteran GOP strategist Mike Murphy. âWeâre going to see what [Perryâs] appeal is.â Romney has been to Iowa just twice this year but his campaign will now face increased pressure to decide whether theyâre going to compete here. Part of that decision will be determined by whether Pawlenty, another mainstream former Republican governor, remains in the race and from what element of the party Perry finds his support. Asked if the straw poll results made them more or less inclined to play in Iowa, Romney communications director Gail Gitcho would only say that her candidate would return to the state. âWe will be Iowa,â she said. âHeâs going to be there enough to prove that heâs the one who can beat Barack Obama.â The results will also give a lift to Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican whose support has surged since he ran four years ago, thanks to the ascent of the Tea Party movement. The veteran Texas congressman now polls in the double-digits in Iowa and is clearly going to be a factor in the caucuses. âWe tripled our support from 2007,â noted Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton. âWeâre proving Ron is moving into the first tier.â The results were a disappointment for Pawlenty. He insisted that he only had to make progress, but he put together a sophisticated organization and campaigned relentlessly in Iowa over the last month. By finishing well behind Bachmann and Paul, he will have a difficult time convincing donors to give the money needed to keep his campaign afloat. âThe Iowa straw poll has never been about picking the nominee it has been about winnowing â and it sure looks like to me thatâs whatâs happening here today,â said Gentry Collins, who ran Romneyâs campaign here four years ago but isnât working for any candidate now. Pawlenty aides were quiet in the hours after the results, letting the campaignâs spare statement serve as their response. âWe made progress in moving from the back of the pack into a competitive position for the caucuses, but we have a lot more work to do,â he said. âThis is a long process to restore America â we are just beginning and Iâm looking forward to a great campaign.â Pawlenty rivals, however, wasted little time in turning up the heat. One campaign noted that Pawlenty got less than a percentage of the total vote than Sam Brownback did her in 2007 â and that Brownback dropped out. Santorum and Cain, also, both now will face money-driven decisions about whether they want to continue in the race. For Santorum, who has little cash in the bank, that means whether he wants to incur debt in going forward. And in the case of Cain, the former CEO must decide whether he wants to spend more of his own personal wealth to continue.