[googlead tip=”vertical_mic”]Republican Michele Bachmann, 55, won the Iowa Straw Poll Saturday, affirming her status as a top-tier candidate in the Republican race to challenge President Barak Obama in 2012.
Michele Bachmann received 28% of the nearly 17,000 votes cast. The Texas Republican, Ron Paul was close behind her with 27%. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty came in a distant third with 13% of the vote, followed by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with 9% and businessman Herman Cain with 8%.
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The daylong political festival was the first indication of how these Republicans are faring with the Grand Old Party (GOP) base. Nine candidates were on the ballot, and voting ran for 6 hours on the campus of Iowa State University.
Voters came in from far and wide, some of the candidates organizing bus caravans to bring backers to the event. In the past the turnout has ranged from 14,000 to 23,000.
Free hamburgers and ice cream were provided and some candidates even paid the $30 entry fee for their supporters to vote in the Iowa Republican Straw Poll.
Sunday morning, it was the ultra-conservative Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann who was doing the rounds of the talkshow studios on the big television networks, while the former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a poor third, became the first hopeful to announce he was dropping out of the race.
For Michele Bachmann, who won 28% of votes cast, it was the latest success in a rapid rise from local politics to Republican frontrunner.
As the result emerged late on Saturday, Bachmann, standing on the steps of her campaign bus, shouted what has become her slogan, just as “hope and change” was for Obama.
“You have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one … term … president.”
“I think what people see in me is I’m a real person, I’m authentic,” she said.
Michele Bachmann compared herself to Ronald Reagan, who is saw as one of the party’s giants by Republicans, in being guided by a core set of principles.
“I don’t compromise my core principles. That’s how you lead, you lead from principles.”
Bachmann’s weekend victory provides important momentum for her campaign and can expect an influx of financial support, but the bigger question for Republicans is whether her appeal can be broad enough to seduce enough voters in the November 2012 presidential election. Although there are eight declared candidates, realistically only three are still in the race: Michele Bachmann, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the Texas Governor Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy on Saturday.
Although Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, her vote is soft, with many still undecided.
Sue Matejka, 65, reflects the fluidity of Iowa Republicans. She travelled the three hours from her home in Olin, Iowa, to Ames for the Straw Poll in a bus paid for by Tim Pawlenty but, despite accepting his largesse, had no qualms about voting for Michele Bachmann.
“I am undecided,” she said. For her, the overriding imperative is a candidate who will unseat Barack Obama.
“It is between Bachmann and Perry. I haven’t heard enough about Perry. What is on paper looks good. What he has done for Texans is good,” she added.
Michele Bachmann has risen fast since being elected to Congress in 2006. She has made the most of frequent appearances on television, particularly Fox News, where she is a favourite because of her ultra-conservative views.
She is one of the most high-profile figures, along with Sarah Palin, in the Tea Party movement. In line with Tea Party principles, she adopted a hardline position during the debt crisis, saying she would not vote for raising the national debt ceiling and on Sunday repeated her view that deep cuts in federal spending were vital.
But it is her views on social issues that helped secure her win in Iowa, one of the most socially conservative states in the country outside of the south. Before joining Congress, she prayed outside abortion clinics.
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Michele Bachmann is also one of the most outspoken critics of homosexuality, co-owning with her husband, Marcus, a clinic in Minnesota where, according to an ABC report by an undercover team, counsellors encourage gay people to pray to get rid of homosexual urges.
“It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say this is gay. It’s anything but gay,” she said in a speech in 2004.
While such views on social issues go down well in Iowa, Republicans know such statements will alienate many of the independent voters who decide elections nationwide.
Bachmann’s biggest problem is the entry into the race of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is a strong candidate. While Perry holds many of the same views as Bachmann on social issues, he said that while he is opposed to same-sex marriage in Texas, he thinks it is fine for New York, saying that is the prerogative of each state to decide. As governor of a state with the best record of job growth in the country, Rick Perry is better placed than Michele Bachmann to take on Barak Obama on the economy. Michele Bachmann acknowledged she cannot win on social issues alone and shifted the emphasis in her round of television interviews on Sunday to the economy.
“It will be an economics election.”
Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy earlier Saturday, came in 6th place with 3.6% of the vote, ahead of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, all of whom didn’t compete in the contest.
The poll results are nonbinding, amount to a popularity contest and offer candidates a chance to test their get-out-the-vote organizations.
Michele Bachmann’s victory may provide a road map for the Iowa campaign heading into the caucuses that are just four months away. But the straw poll has a mixed record of predicting the winner of that contest.
In 2008, Romney won the straw poll, but the big news was the surprising second-place showing of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, but dropped from the race soon after. McCain, who eventually won the nomination, didn’t compete in the straw poll and finished in 10th place.
Meanwhile, Barak Obama, dropping in the polls and aware of the boost Republicans received from four days of campaign events in Iowa that attracted 700 journalists, heads off on Monday on a three days bus tour of the mid-west, including Iowa. A CNN poll last week put Obama on 47%, down from 52% in January. The White House election is 16 months away but he has a lot of ground to make up.