Now that the Iowa Straw Poll is over, the Republican presidential campaign’s focus is shifting to the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Feb. 6. Iowa, of course, kicks off the nation’s caucus/primary trail.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann
stands as the frontrunner in the Hawkeye state after her rousing victory in the Straw Poll Saturday. But now she faces a new challenge in the form of Texas Gov. Rick Perry who entered the presidential race Saturday.
Perry is currently spending three days in the state. “My goal is to finish number one in every contest,” he said in New Hampshire Saturday. He had a message for grassroots conservatives in Iowa. “Everybody in the tea party, we love ya,” Perry said. “God bless America and God bless Iowa.”
Perry’s focus on Iowa will force a decision from front-runner Mitt Romney as to how he will approach Iowa. He didn’t participate in the Straw Poll and has shown ambivalence about putting effort into the caucuses.
“Now there’s reason for Romney to take another look,” Politico states. “Bachmann, Perry, and even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in the event she runs, would be competing for the same conservative Republican voters, perhaps offering Romney a path to a plurality victory.”
It also would be difficult for the former Massachusetts governor to avoid what shapes up to be a seminal contest to open the Republican nomination process.
Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad says Romney will pay the price if he doesn’t do well in Iowa’s caucuses. "He made a mistake by not participating in the Straw Poll," Branstad said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" Sunday.
"It's important for him to come here and compete. If he gets blown out in Iowa, I think he's in real trouble."
Romney won the Iowa caucuses in his 2008 presidential campaign, but that didn’t do him much good in his fight for the nomination won by John McCain. So this time around the front-runner has focused on winning New Hampshire, the country’s first primary, and solidifying his national campaign operation.
But he’s not ignoring the Hawkeye state either. "I'd like to do darn well in those caucuses," he told supporters last week in Pella, Iowa.
Meanwhile, Bachmann is presenting herself as the candidate who can attract a broad constituency.
“Everywhere I’ve gone across Iowa, there isn’t an event that I do where people don’t come up to me and say, ‘Michele I’m a Democrat and I’m voting for you, I’m an independent and I’m voting for you. I voted for Barack Obama but I’m not voting for him again. I like you,’” she told ABC.
“And I think it’s because I’m talking about what people really care about—turning the economy around and job creation. I think what people see in me is I’m a real person, I’m authentic.”
As for Perry, he reached out to ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who withdrew from the campaign after a poor showing in the Straw Poll.
"We're great friends," Perry said. “We spent a lot of quality personal time [together]. He is one of my favorite Republican governors out there, not only because of what a Republican governor did in a pretty blue state, but also in a personal way. He is one of the funniest guys I've ever been around.”
Perry and the other remaining Republican candidates aren’t just looking for an endorsement from Pawlenty. They’re trying to convince his financial donors to throw money their way.
Ray Washburne, a Dallas businessman who was one of Pawlenty’s top contribution bundlers, told The New York Times that Romney and Perry called him shortly after Pawlenty withdrew from the race.
But Washburne hasn’t made up his mind yet. “When the girlfriend breaks up with you, you’re not ready to start dating just yet,” he said.
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