Michele Bachmann Wins Iowa Poll

The race for the Republican presidential nomination came into sharper focus on Saturday as Gov. Rick Perry of Texas declared his candidacy in South Carolina and Michele Bachmann won a closely watched poll of voters in Iowa.

Michele Bachmann with her happy supporters after winning Iowa poll. Photo: Mike Eischen/Flickr.

Bachmann, a 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.

Bachmann – the tea party favorite with a following among evangelicals who make up the GOP base in Iowa and elsewhere – got more than 28 percent of the 17,000 votes cast in the nonbinding exercise. It provides clues about each candidate’s level of support and campaign organization five months before the Iowa caucuses kick off the Republican primary season.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has support among libertarian-leaning voters, came in a close second. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was looking for a strong showing to boost his struggling campaign, but fared a distant third, raising questions about the future of his candidacy.

“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.”

“We are going to make Barack Obama a one-term president,” Bachmann declared to cheers on the campus of Iowa State University during a daylong political festival. A few hours later, she learned she won the Iowa straw poll and said: “This is the very first step toward taking back the White House!”

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has support among libertarian-leaning voters, came in a close second. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was looking for a strong showing to boost his struggling campaign, but fared a distant third, raising questions about the future of his candidacy.

“We have a lot more work to do,” Pawlenty said, suggesting he wasn’t dropping out despite the disappointing finish. “We are just beginning.”

The disappointing finish for the Pawlenty campaign is explained, in part, by voters like Dave Freligh, a retired private investigator from Winterset, who carried a green “Pawlenty ’12” T-shirt under his arm. He accepted a ticket from the Pawlenty campaign, but decided to support Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, because he wanted him to keep his candidacy alive so the race would not be dominated by politicians.

“I feel like a little bit of a fraud,” said Mr. Freligh, 67, shrugging as he walked away from the voting area. “Now, I’m waiting to see who has real leadership qualities and who gets my juices going.”

In South Carolina, Rick Perry formally jumped into the race with a blistering attack on President Barack Obama. “We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” he told a conference of conservatives, promising to reduce taxes, regulations and government intrusion in people’s lives.

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.

The results of the straw poll provide only a snapshot of the race, but along with Mr. Perry’s announcement, represented a significant reshuffling of the campaign and highlighted a deep uncertainty among Republicans over who would be the strongest nominee. Republicans sense a new opportunity to win back the White House, but there was little clarity about whether voters would choose someone from the party establishment, an outsider or a hybrid.

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.

A bit later, Bachmann danced on the stage with her husband to an Elvis Presley song before 3,000 supporters who packed into her tent; hundreds more crowded outside hoping for a glimpse.

“There is no doubt in my mind we are the team that can’t be beat in 2012,” Bachmann shouted from the stage.

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. [via The New York Times, Huffpost and The Telegraph]

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