Republican battle hots up as Perry joins White House race
The Republicans competing for the chance to eject President Barack Obama from the White House face their first big hurdle today when activists in the first-voting state of Iowa select their favourite candidates in a 'straw poll'.
Among those expected to do well are Representative Michele Bachmann, the hardline Minnesota conservative whose support has surged recently, and Representative Ron Paul, a maverick anti-war libertarian with a fervent and vocal following.
However, absent from the ballot, will be Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who will announce his candidacy in South Carolina as the Iowa straw poll takes place, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and early Republican front-runner, who has chosen to skip the challenge.
Adding to the drama in Iowa was the expected appearance of Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential candidate and darling of many conservative Tea Party activists, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
Although she is widely expected to stay out of the presidential race, her fervent supporters still hope she will make a late bid for the White House. In the run-up to the ballot, which holds no official significance but has traditionally thinned out the field, the candidates traded insults in a televised debate in Ames, signalling a newly aggressive phase of the campaign.
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, ripped into Ms Bachmann, a congresswoman from his state, as he sought to blunt her recent poll surge that threatens to end his White House hopes.
On Ms Bachmann, Mr Pawlenty, whose campaign could be in trouble if he finishes behind her in the poll, commented: "It's an undisputable fact that in congress, her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent. That's not going to be good enough for our candidate for president of the United States."
Mrs Bachmann hit back by comparing Mr Pawlenty with Mr Obama. She said Mr Pawlenty had implemented cap-and-trade in Minnesota, had praised the "individual mandate" requirement for health insurance and once stated that the era of small government was over. "That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama, if you ask me," she said.
Mr Pawlenty also turned his fire on Mr Romney, making a joke about his wealth and then taking him to task for his Massachusetts health care reform, calling it "essentially the same plan" as Mr Obama's national reform. Mr Romney refused to engage, instead seeking to make Mr Obama his focus, a strategy that has borne dividends so far.
Asked about his fierce opposition to the recent debt ceiling bill that Mr Obama signed into law, Mr Romney said: "Look, I'm not going to eat Barack Obama's dog food, all right?"
Meanwhile, Mr Perry will portray himself today as an anti-Washington figure representing change.
In a passage leaked to the Politico news website, he is due to say: "The change we seek will never emanate out of Washington. It will come from the windswept prairies of middle America, the farms and factories across this great land, the hearts and minds of God-fearing Americans who will not accept a future that is less than our past." (© Daily Telegraph, London)