The fight for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination resets today after a hard-fought straw poll win and the entrance of a new contestant.
U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the victor of yesterday’s Iowa Straw Poll, will meet Texas Governor Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy just hours before her win, at a Republican fundraiser in her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa.
“That’s like the shoot out at the O.K. Corral,” said Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is a Bachmann ally in Congress and popular with Tea Party activists.
The speeches in Waterloo will feature two candidates who appeal to similar Tea Party and socially conservative voters in Iowa -- the state that will host the first nomination voting early next year -- and much of the Republican Party elsewhere.
Securing those voters will be crucial to winning the Iowa caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 6, and gaining momentum to fight former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who leads in national polls and fundraising among Republicans.
“We have to win the caucus here,” Bachmann campaign manager Ed Rollins said. “We’re going to work very, very hard here.”
While Bachmann and several other Republican candidates made their final push prior to the straw poll voting in Ames, Iowa, across the country Perry made his entrance official with a speech in South Carolina.
“We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” Perry said. “Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed stimulus plans have given us record debts and left us far too many unemployed Americans.”
Perry arrives in Iowa today after a stop in New Hampshire, where the nation’s first primary will follow the caucuses next year.
Bachmann won the straw poll with 29 percent of the vote. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a libertarian-leaning Republican, earned second with 28 percent, while former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty finished a distant third with 14 percent.
“This is the very first step towards taking the White House in 2012,” Bachmann told supporters standing outside her campaign bus following her win. “This was a wonderful down- payment on taking the country back.”
Upon learning of her victory, Bachmann broke out in tears and hugged her husband, Marcus, as the bus driver began honking the horn, according to spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
“She was very moved, humbled and extremely thankful,” Marcus Bachmann said in a brief interview. “We held each other for a quite a while.”
Bachmann’s win solidified her standing in the top tier for the Republican 2012 nomination.
“It’s a big boost for her,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who finished second in the 2007 straw poll, told reporters. Huckabee’s showing gave him momentum that helped him to win the Iowa caucuses in early 2008.
“Whoever wins or comes in second, they get gas for their fire,” he said. “Whoever doesn’t, they get water for theirs.”
With Bachmann and Paul combining for more than 50 percent of the straw poll vote, Pawlenty’s showing was a blow to his presidential hopes.
Like Bachmann, Pawlenty has concentrated his campaign on Iowa, and sees winning the caucuses as the best means of propelling his candidacy. The straw poll results showed that Bachmann’s efforts have been more successful than his.
“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. “This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning and I’m looking forward to a great campaign.”
Pawlenty and his top aides left the straw poll before the votes were announced, leaving behind an empty tent and volunteers packing up folding chairs.
Paul, 75, benefited from committed supporters drawn to his fiscal policy, which calls for a return to linking the dollar to gold, and a non-interventionist foreign policy that is the basis for his opposition to the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
“We’re into wars that are costing us trillions of dollars,” he said in a speech at the straw poll yesterday prior to the voting. “Those trillions of dollars should have been left in the economy to build jobs.”
Though previous straw poll winners haven’t consistently gone on to win the Iowa caucuses or gain the Republican nomination, the contest does have a record of weeding out candidates who fail to finish near the top.
Republican activists, donors and political consultants use the poll to gauge the political prospects of the candidates. A win often means an influx of new donations and grassroots support, while a poor showing can all but end a candidacy.
Romney didn’t actively compete in the straw poll, though his name was on the ballot.
Write-ins also were allowed, and Perry finished ahead of Romney, 4 percent to 3 percent. Their showings placed Perry sixth and Romney seventh.
Finishing in fourth place was former Senator Rick Santorum, with 10 percent of the vote.
“Hopefully, with this finish, people will start listening to what we’re having to say and put us out there with everybody else instead of burying us below folks below us in the polls,” Santorum said.
In fifth was former Godfather’s Pizza Inc. executive Herman Cain, at 9 percent.
Rounding out the field were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, with 2 percent, and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, each of whom received less than 1 percent.
Overall, 16,892 ballots were cast in the straw poll, up from about 14,000 four years ago.
Bachmann totaled 4,823, while Paul had 4,671 and Pawlenty 2,293.
Huckabee said Bachmann shouldn’t be underestimated nationally.
“Michele is really a very articulate candidate,” he said. “She’s strong. She’s not afraid of people. And she is very disciplined, even when people are throwing things right at her face, she stands in the batter’s box and doesn’t flinch.”
Attendance at the straw poll, which doubles as a fundraiser for the state Republican Party, required a $30 admission ticket. Better-financed candidates often pick up that cost and provide bus rides to the venue, along with food and entertainment. A ballot spot was guaranteed by renting space at the straw poll site or by placement by the state party.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said all the Republican candidates were taking positions that would alienate them from independent voters in the general election, as they work to win a greater share of the Republican base.
“They all are taking and staking out the same place on the deep end of the right wing,” she told reporters. “The contrast is going to be dramatic.”
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