US Rep. presidential candidate Michele Bachmann 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
AMES, Iowa - Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll on Saturday in the first big test of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, as Texas Governor Rick Perry launched a White House bid that could reshape the race.
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Bachmann, a US representative from Minnesota, narrowly edged out Ron Paul and rolled over the rest of the field to capture the nonbinding mock election, an early gauge of strength in the state that holds the first 2012 Republican nominating contest.
Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, finished a distant third, dealing a setback to his struggling campaign.
"This is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012," Bachmann told a small crowd of supporters outside her campaign bus on the straw poll grounds. "Now it's on to all 50 states."
In South Carolina, Perry formally jumped into the race with a blistering attack on US President Barack Obama.
"We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership," Perry
told a conference of conservatives, promising to reduce taxes,
regulations and government intrusion in people's lives.
The straw poll and Perry's campaign launch, coming less than six months
before Iowa's nominating contest, promised to reshuffle the Republican
field fighting for the nomination to challenge Obama, a Democrat, in
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
In the straw poll, Bachmann won with 29 percent of the vote. Paul, a
U.S. representative from Texas, was a close second with 28 percent and
Pawlenty had 14 percent.
Bachmann's win adds to her recent momentum and cements her standing in
the top tier of contenders. She had shot to the top of opinion polls in
Iowa this summer with the support of social conservatives and the fiscal
conservative Tea Party movement.
Pawlenty's showing raised questions about his ability to continue in the
race after spending $1 million in Iowa. He has been mired in the low
single digits in polls in the state and nationally.
"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," Pawlenty
said in a statement. "We are just beginning and I'm looking forward to a
Perry finished sixth with 3.6 percent of the vote even though he was not
on the ballot. That was more than Romney, the former Massachusetts
governor who was on the ballot but did not participate in the poll. He
Six Republicans had paid to erect tents and speak at the event, pleading
for support from voters who rolled into the site in dozens of buses and
jammed candidate tents for music and free barbecue.
Lines were long at the tents hosted by Bachmann and Pawlenty, who
competed for the votes of the social conservatives who dominate the Iowa
nominating contest. The supporters of Paul, a libertarian with a loyal
following, swarmed the grounds and jammed the arena when he spoke.
The 16,892 votes was the second biggest straw poll turnout behind the
nearly 24,000 cast in 1999, when then-Governor George W. Bush of Texas
won on his way to the White House.
Clara Bulens of Grinnell, Iowa, said she traveled to the poll to vote
for Bachmann because "she's beautiful, brilliant, very personable and I
love her platform."
The poll, a fund-raiser for the state party, created a carnival
atmosphere around Iowa State University's basketball arena in Ames. Any
Iowa resident over 18 could show up and participate, with many allowing a
candidate to buy their $30 ticket.
The poll has a record of winnowing the poor performers from the field,
but a straw poll victory is not always a harbinger of later success.
Romney won in 2007 but lost the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, who was a
surprise second-place winner in the straw poll.
Bush's father lost in 1987 before winning the presidency and Bob Dole
tied in 1995 before capturing the Republican nomination the next year.