Nightly News | August 13, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: We have arrived at an early gut check moment for those Republican candidates hoping to unseat President Obama next year. Tonight in Iowa , the voting is over in the Ames Republican straw poll . It's the campaign season's first chance for voters to weigh in on the GOP field. Tonight's results are breathing new life into some presidential hopes and may soon be bringing others to an early end. But even the day's front-runners are going to be immediately looking over their shoulders at the newest entrant into the race, who far from Iowa stole much of the day's spotlight. Our coverage begins in Iowa with NBC 's Kelly O'Donnell . Kelly , good evening.
KELLY O'DONNELL reporting: Good evening, Lester . Well, the Iowa Republican Party is still counting the ballots, an estimated 17,000 votes, that's more than expected. Who does that help? Well, Ron Paul 's campaign says they went through 4,000 T-shirts , Herman Cain says they gave away 3,000 slices of pizza, but none of the candidates ran out of enthusiasm.
Unidentified Man #1: Republicans, welcome to Ames . Welcome to the 2011 Iowa straw poll !
O'DONNELL: Unofficial, but very influential.
Unidentified Woman #1: I hope it's more than great food and a lot of sound bites.
O'DONNELL: There were crowd-pleaser lines...
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): Be grateful that you're from Iowa .
O'DONNELL: ...from Iowa -born Michele Bachmann .
Rep. BACHMANN: I have always been grateful that I'm an Iowan . And I believe it's time we have an Iowan in the White House .
O'DONNELL: Businessman Herman Cain has never held office.
Mr. HERMAN CAIN (Republican Presidential Candidate): I have been criticized because I have not had any direct foreign policy experience. And the guy we have there now has?
Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): Without the federal government down on our backs and in our wallets, it's time we restored freedom to America .
O'DONNELL: The real action was outside.
Unidentified Man #2: Bachmann voters, if you're ready to vote, follow me!
O'DONNELL: Long lines snaked around this carnival atmosphere. Thousands came for the novelty...
Unidentified Man #3: One, two, three.
O'DONNELL: ...and the chance to meet today's Republican presidential field.
Former Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): Hey!
O'DONNELL: Candidates hosted tent parties.
Unidentified Woman #2: I think that Michele Bachmann has a lot of things to offer for the United States .
O'DONNELL: Where campaigns provided music, food...
Unidentified Man #4: Good afternoon, we're having a good time in Iowa .
O'DONNELL: ...and the $30 fundraiser ticket needed to actually cast a straw vote . Who are you backing?
Unidentified Man #5: Tim Pawlenty .
Man #5: Because I think he has the answers.
O'DONNELL: Governor Tim Pawlenty tried to show strength with an army in green T-shirts . What are you hearing from people?
Gov. PAWLENTY: People are, you know, having a combination of fun, but also this is meaningful, it's about trying to get our country back on track. So people I think are enjoying it, but they're also serious about the fact that our country's in trouble and it's got to get fixed. That's what this is about.
O'DONNELL: Iowa voters know their choice today could push some weaker candidates out of the race.
Unidentified Woman #3: We need to get it down to the cream of the crop . And find out who we all believe is the cream of the crop so that they can go on.
O'DONNELL: And if you're wondering about national front-runner Mitt Romney , he chose not to compete here, not spend money, even though his name did appear on the ballot. And they do expect to have those votes counted sometime this evening. We're hoping very soon. Lester :