Michele Bachmann wins, Ron Paul a close second at Iowa straw poll

Michele Bachmann claimed a narrow victory over Ron Paul in Iowa's GOP presidential straw poll on Saturday, becoming the first woman to ever win the famed contest.

With nearly 17,000 votes cast, the Minnesota congresswoman received 4,823 votes in Ames--narrowly beating Paul by just 152 votes.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty finished in third place, with 2,293 votes--a disappointing finish for the 2012 hopeful who was counting on a good showing to give some much needed momentum to his campaign.

Still, Pawlenty offered no signs that he is thinking about quitting the race, citing his third place finish as "progress." "We are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a great campaign," Pawlenty said in a statement.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished in fourth place, with 1,657 votes, followed by Herman Cain (1,456); Mitt Romney (567); Newt Gingrich (385); Jon Huntsman (69) and Thaddeaus McCotter (35).

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose name was not included on the ballot, received 718 write-in votes--more than Romney, who (along with Huntsman) didn't formally participate in the event. Earlier today, Perry officially announced his candidacy in South Carolina, at roughly the same time straw poll attendees began casting their votes in Iowa.

While there has been some debate about whether the Ames contest truly matters, the Iowa straw poll is widely considered one of the early tests of a candidate's organizational strength and support in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. One potential sign of enthusiasm from GOP caucus-goers about the 2012 race: More votes were cast this year than the roughly 14,000 cast in the same contest four years ago--a year that the declared frontrunner (Romney) actually participated. It was the second biggest turnout in the event's history.

The results are likely to put pressure on candidates who didn't do well--including Gingrich, who couldn't afford to reserve space at the event but still showed up to mingle with straw poll attendees. His campaign offered no immediate comment on the poll's results.

Santorum, another candidate who had a disappointing finish, insisted he has no plans to quit the race--telling MSNBC in an interview his votes were pretty high considering he hasn't received as much media attention as other candidates.

While Bachmann's win is a win, her slim margin of victory might not give her the momentum she was looking for in her quest to be considered the race's chief alternative to Romney. The danger for her candidacy is that she's competing for much of the same support as Perry, whose 2012 announcement dominated political headlines for much of the day.

She and Perry are set to cross paths for the first time Sunday--both are set to appear a fundraising dinner in Waterloo, Iowa.