Six Republicans including Michele Bachmann (pictured) are vying for popularity in Iowa’s straw poll on Saturday, an unofficial test of campaign strength ahead of next year’s presidential election.
REUTERS - Six Republican presidential hopefuls competed on Saturday in the Iowa straw poll, an unofficial test of campaign strength, as Texas Governor Rick Perry formally launched a White House run that could reshape the 2012 race.
Voters swarmed the straw poll site and lined up early to cast a ballot in the nonbinding mock election that traditionally winnows the Republican field of poor performers and boosts those who do better than expected.
Perry issued a statement formally declaring his candidacy ahead of a speech to a gathering of conservatives in South Carolina, another state with an early nominating contest.
"It is time to get America working again," Perry said in the statement. "That's why with the support of my family and an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today my candidacy for president of the United States."
The straw poll and Perry's campaign launch, coming less than six months before Iowa residents hold the first presidential nominating contest, promise to reshuffle the field in the Republican race for the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
Perry, a staunch social conservative with a strong job creation record in Texas, is expected to immediately vault into the top tier of contenders along with front-runner Mitt Romney. Perry visits Iowa on Sunday.
At the straw poll, candidates pleaded for support as dozens of buses carrying supporters rolled into the site. Lines were long at the tents hosted by Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, who are competing for the votes of the social conservatives who dominate the Iowa nominating contest.
Romney will be on the ballot but chose not to participate after winning the straw poll in 2007. He later lost the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, who rode the momentum he generated with a surprise second-place straw poll finish.
The poll, a fund-raiser for the state party, created a carnival atmosphere around Iowa State University's basketball arena, where candidates enticed supporters with big-tent entertainment, free food and speeches.
Any Iowa resident over 18 could show up and participate, with many allowing a candidate to buy their $30 ticket. Candidates organized the buses to haul in supporters from around the state in a warmup for the organizational effort needed in the caucuses.
Clara Bulens of Grinnell said she voted for Bachmann because "she's beautiful, brilliant, very personable and I love her platform."
Palin not a fan
Not all of the candidates are fans of the event. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee who is still flirting with a White House run, questioned its validity during a visit to the Iowa state fair on Friday.
"It's not always the tell-tale sign of what the electorate is feeling," Palin said of the poll. "It's who happens to show up and has the time and energy to spend that day for their particular candidate."
Pawlenty and Bachmann have the most at risk. They are vying for the same conservative supporters and both need a win in Iowa's caucuses in 2012 to have a viable path to the nomination.
Bachmann's appeal to both Tea Party fiscal conservatives and social conservatives has shot her to the top of opinion polls in Iowa, but a flat performance by the Minnesota congresswoman could puncture her early momentum.
Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, is mired in single digits in state and national polls and needs a strong showing to keep his campaign alive. He ripped Bachmann's record in Congress during a debate on Thursday at the straw poll site.
Four other Republicans -- U.S. Representatives Ron Paul and Thaddeus McCotter, businessman Herman Cain and former Senator Rick Santorum -- also paid the fees and bought tents and speaking time at the event.
Romney, along with former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, did not pay to participate in the straw poll but will be listed on the ballot.
Date created : 2011-08-13