Carnival mood at the Iowa straw poll

There was a carnival atmosphere on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, today, as Republican presidential hopefuls gave their last speeches, then hung out with their supporters in tents while Iowa’s GOP voters cast their ballots in the Iowa Straw Poll.

Among the nine candidates hoping that a top spot in the poll would help them capture the attention of Republican voters nationwide: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, businessman Herman Cain and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman were also on the ballot, though they didn’t compete in the contest.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his run for president today, did not appear on the ballot, but their supporters circulated among the crowd to convince voters to write in their names, the Associated Press reports.

"We know what America needs," Tim Pawlenty told the crowd during his speech at the Hilton Coliseum, the AP reports. "But unfortunately, Barack Obama has no clue. He's like a manure spreader in a windstorm."

Michele Bachmann said: "We are going to make Barack Obama a one-term president.”

Ron Paul of Texas told the crowd, “we are identified with the cause of liberty. I’m convinced that liberty and an understanding of that and the Constitution can bring us peace and prosperity,” the New York Times reports.

The real attraction for some attendees was the food, T-shirts and mini-concerts the candidates provided to win their support.

According to CBS News, Ron Paul offered a dunk tank, a giant inflatable Uncle Sam and an inflatable slide emblazoned with the words "The Sliding Dollar." Rick Santorum handed out peach jam from his family farm. And Michele Bachmann’s campaign hosted a Randy Travis concert and dished out mountains of food.