Republicans Face Off in Iowa Straw Poll as Perry Joins Race

As Republican presidential candidates including Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty made final efforts to win today’s Iowa Straw Poll, Texas Governor Rick Perry added his name to the White House race in a speech in South Carolina.

“We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” Perry, 61, said at his announcement in Charleston. “Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed stimulus plans has given us record debts and left us far too many unemployed Americans.”

Perry wasn’t on the straw poll ballot, though supporters have been encouraging people to write his name in. He plans to make his first campaign visit to Iowa tomorrow.

For Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, and Bachmann, a U.S. House member from the same state, the stakes in the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, are especially high. Each is focused on winning the Iowa caucuses that officially begin the nomination process early next year as the best means of propelling their candidacies, and a straw poll victory could boost their prospects.

Bachmann, 55, has drawn enthusiastic audiences while campaigning in Iowa. Pawlenty, 50, has built an extensive political organization in the state and tirelessly campaigned there. A poor straw-poll showing by either would deal a setback to their presidential hopes.

The two spent much of an Aug. 11 debate in Ames featuring eight Republican presidential candidates attacking each other, a sign of the straw poll’s importance to their political futures.

Iowa Connection

Bachmann, an Iowa native and a favorite of Tea Party activists, emphasized her connection to the state in a speech to the straw poll audience today inside Hilton Coliseum.

“In Iowa, we are social conservatives and we will never be ashamed of being social conservatives,” she said.

“Whether we are Tea Party, or social conservative or fiscal conservative or national security conservative, we stick together,” she said. “We are the team that can’t be beat.”

Turning to the Democrat she and the other Republicans want to run against next year, she said, “We are going to make Barack Obama a one-term president.”

Pawlenty sought to persuade those in the audience that he has the executive experience to lead the nation.

“I know what this country needs,” he said. “I understand our conservative principals. I understand what needs to be done. And I’m not just going to stand up here and give you the words. You can take it to the bank. I will restore America’s promise and lead this country to a better, brighter, stronger place.”

Weeding Out

Though the straw poll winner hasn’t consistently gone on to earn the party’s nomination, the contest does have a record of weeding out candidates who fail to finish near the top.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in polls in the Republican race, didn’t actively compete in the straw poll, though his name is on the ballot.

Along with Bachmann and Pawlenty, Representative Ron Paul of Texas was rated by Iowa political analysts as having a strong chance of winning the straw poll.

Paul, 75, in his straw-poll speech today highlighted 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. “Those trillions of dollars should have been left in the economy to build jobs.”

Other Candidates

Other candidates on today’s ballot are former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Godfather’s Pizza Inc. executive Herman Cain, Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.

Santorum, in his speech today, stressed his social conservative credentials, including his opposition to abortion rights, drawing loud cheers from the audience.

“To suggest as a Republican Party, that we can be a party about tax cuts and spending cuts and not about strong families and strong faith, you don’t understand Iowa and you don’t understand America,” he said. “This campaign is about scratching and clawing for every little bit of recognition we can get.”

Cain vowed to jump-start the lagging economy. “Uncertainty is killing this economy,” he said. “As long as uncertainly is killing this economy it is killing this nation.”

Ticket Price

Attendance at the straw poll requires a $30 admission ticket, so 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 or by placement there by the state party.

Chronicling the straw poll, which doubles as a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa, are about 700 journalists from around the globe who have signed up for credentials.

Romney, 64, in his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, spent about $2 million campaigning to win the straw poll four years ago. He came in first with 4,516 votes out of about 14,000 cast.

Still, he finished second in the Iowa caucuses five months later and lost the nomination to Senator John McCain of Arizona.

-- With assistance by David Mildenberg in Charleston, South Carolina. Editors: Don Frederick, Ann Hughey.

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