AMES, IOWA (AFP) - Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, setting the stage for what some say could set her well on the road to challenge US President Barack Obama in 2012.
Bachmann, with the help of Tea Party supporters, was the first woman to win the event.
"This is a very first step toward taking the White House in 2012," Bachmann said to a crowd of about 100 supporters surrounding her bus shortly after the announced win.
"We've just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president," she said to cheers.
The event is a Republican fundraiser held in Ames that is nonbinding and unscientific. It has been criticized as playing too heavily in favor of candidates that are well financed, since their campaigns can buy the $30 tickets for their supporters to attend and presumably vote in their favor.
Bachmann, for example, handed out at least 4,000 free tickets to supporters. She got 4,823 votes.
Despite the criticisms, the straw poll has been historically viewed as an early test of a Republican president candidate's ability to organize in Iowa, the state that holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses in the party nominating process that is scheduled for February 6 next year.
In 1999, for example, then Texas governor George W. Bush won the event before going on to win the Iowa caucuses, the party's nomination and ultimately becoming US president.
Nine candidates' names appeared on the ballot Saturday.
Additionally, for the first time in the event's history, attendees could write-in a candidate's name not listed on the ballot, paving the way for Texas Governor Rick Perry -- who announced his candidacy Saturday during a speech in South Carolina -- to land sixth.
Libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul came in second with 4,671 votes, followed by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, 2,293 with a relatively distant 2,293 votes, less than half of Bachmann's total.
The position breathes some life into Pawlenty's push for the nomination, as he had been trailing in the polls, although some observers pointed out he needed a sterling Iowa performance to maintain a healthy campaign.
"Our campaign needed to show progress and we did. I'm eager for the campaign ahead," Pawlenty said in a message posted on Twitter.
The other results were former Pennsylvania congressman Rick Santorum, 1,657; Businessman Herman Cain, 1,456; Perry, 718; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 567; former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 385; former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, 69; and Michigan congressman Thad McCotter, 35.
Three candidates on the ballot -- Romney, Huntsman and Gingrich -- essentially did not compete in the event, skipping the minimum $15,000 necessary to purchase tent space.
Huntsman and Romney, the national frontrunner, did not attend.
There were 16,892 votes cast, more than the 14,302 in 2007 during a time when GOP enthusiasm was low but less than the roughly 23,000 votes in 1999 when
Republicans were riding a wave of popularity, noted Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, located in Des Moines, Iowa's capital city.
"I don't think that's great," Goldford said of the number of votes cast Saturday. "It's better than being at 14,000 or below but I still think it reflects a feeling on the part of a lot of Republicans that the identity of their champion hasn't become obvious yet," Goldford said.
The candidates, meanwhile, focused much of their rhetoric on Obama and the US economy -- talking points that have intensified after Standard and Poor's downgraded the credit rating of the US government from triple-A to AA+.
It was the first such downgrade in US history, which the agency said was largely due to partisan congressional gridlock that earlier this month threatened to push the US into default in some of its $14.3 trillion of debt when lawmakers fought against raising the debt ceiling.
Some Democratic leaders spent the day meeting with party activists and the media as they portrayed the Republican candidates as extremists who are associated with the Tea Party and who have poisoned American politics.
Part of the ammunition Democrats used to show proof of extremism was the Republican presidential debate held in Ames Thursday.
Republicans offered complete resistance to allowing tax breaks to expire for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, leaving the repayment of US debt on the backs of middle- and low-income families, they said.
"It gave not just Iowa voters but the whole country a bird's eye view of the extremism," said Democratic Party of Iowa Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky, who toured the state Saturday with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
President Obama's job approval rating is above 50 percent in 16 states, four more than last year, according to a Gallop Survey released August 8.
But the poll also shows that Obama's approval in several of the swing states -- states that could go Democratic or Republican that he won in 2008 -- was below the 50 percent mark, a signal that he will have a tougher reelection bid.
Obama earlier in the week visited Michigan -- another swing state where his approval is 50 percent -- where he blamed the sluggish economy on Congress' gridlock.
Obama will make at least two similar stops in Iowa, where his approval stands at 49 percent, next week.
© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license