Romney has dictated the pace of his campaign almost without regard to other contenders, and he has managed to avoid direct confrontations with the other Republicans in the field, most recently in Thursday’s debate. But that could change quickly as the GOP candidates look toward a September calendar that includes three nationally televised debates.
Bachmann captured 29 percent of almost 17,000 votes in the Ames straw poll and was closely followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, with 28 percent. Pawlenty received 14 percent. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was fourth with 10 percent, and businessman Herman Cain was fifth, with 9 percent.
“This is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012, and you have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president,” Bachmann told supporters shortly after the results were announced.
Pawlenty’s disappointing finish threatens to end a candidacy that once held great promise. Until only a few months ago, many Republicans saw Pawlenty as a potentially strong candidate for the nomination. He has spent more time and money in Iowa than any other candidate.
In the run-up to the straw poll, which is not a reliable predictor of who wins later in the Iowa caucuses or finally receives the nomination, the former two-term Minnesota governor vowed to keep going no matter what the results were on Saturday. But he will have to reevaluate in light the tallies. By the time they were announced, Pawlenty and his senior team had packed up and left.
Pawlenty issued a statement congratulating Bachmann while claiming he had moved into a “competitive position” for next year’s caucuses. But he added, “We have a lot more work to do.”
Paul, who often runs strongly in straw polls, might have provided the biggest surprise of the day. But he has yet to demonstrate the broad appeal needed to win primaries or caucuses. Still, his finish is recognition that the iconoclastic conservative with the small-government message has greater resonance today than four years ago.
Perry formally announced his candidacy with a speech in South Carolina in which he criticized the policies of President Obama. “I will not sit back and accept the path that America is on because a great country requires a better direction, because a renewed nation needs a new president,” he said.
Perry has served longer than any other governor in Texas history and brings to the race solid conservative credentials, an affinity with both tea party activists and social conservatives, and an unbeaten record as a candidate.