"Whether we are tea party or social conservatives or fiscal conservatives or national security conservatives, if we stick together, and this will happen, the greatness will once again belong to the United States of America,'' she said. "As I look across this arena here in Ames, I know we are the team that can't be beat.''
Straw poll voters frequently cited her religious faith and strong convictions as the main sources of her appeal. Bachmann was one of the most outspoken members of Congress against the deal struck with President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, which allowed the government to avoid an economy-shocking default.
"I think she's tough and firm and will make things happen,'' said Andrea McDannald, an insurance agent from Des Moines.
"I appreciate her Christian faith,'' said Jeff Rekers of Winthrop. "Good moral values. We need that now,'' added his wife, Sandy, also sporting a Bachmann T-shirt.
But as Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad explained on Saturday before the results were announced, "It's not about who won. It's about who beats expectations.''
By that measure, Pawlenty fell hard, though he has been downplaying the importance of a top finish. The former governor of Minnesota has been steadily campaigning in neighboring Iowa for months and invested about $1 million in a top-flight staff and television advertising.
He was the first candidate to release a statement congratulating Bachmann, with whom he sparred repeatedly during Thursday's FOX News debate. Pawlenty now faces the daunting task of persuading donors that he's still a viable, national candidate after trailing Paul, widely viewed as more of a cult favorite than a plausible nominee.
"We 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,'' he said. "This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a great campaign."
Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who is not working for any of the current candidates said Pawlenty faced an "impossible choice.'' To win the straw poll, he said, would have meant stripping away his appeal to more moderate voters.
"To take the positions the Ames voters want with the intensity they demand puts you in a position where you become a hopelessly weak general election candidate. As is Bachmann,'' Murphy said.
Only two of the past five winners of the straw poll have gone on to win the GOP nomination: George W. Bush in 1999 and Bob Dole in 1995. The quadrennial event is known more for winnowing the field than anointing the nominee.
"You're sending a message to America,'' Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the boisterous crowd, plied with barbecue, corn dogs and country music by candidates jockeying for votes. "We have the first chance to give a boost to some candidates and give a recommendation to the rest of this country. This matters.''