US Representative Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll on Saturday in the first big test of next year’s Republican US presidential campaign, as Texas Governor Rick Perry launched a White House bid that could reshape the race.
Bachmann narrowly edged out US Representative Ron Paul and rolled over the rest of the field to capture the non-binding mock election, an early gauge of strength in the state that holds the first Republican nominating contest for next year.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty finished a distant third, dealing a setback to his struggling campaign.
“This is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012,” Bachmann told a small crowd of supporters outside her campaign bus on the straw poll grounds. “Now it’s on to all 50 states.”
In South Carolina, Perry formally jumped into the race with a blistering attack on US President Barack Obama.
“We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” Perry told a conference of conservatives, promising to reduce taxes, regulations and government intrusion in people’s lives.
Perry, a staunch social conservative with a strong job creation record in Texas, is expected to immediately vault into the top tier of contenders along with frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
In the straw poll, Bachmann won with 29 percent of the vote. Paul was a close second with 28 percent and Pawlenty had 14 percent.
Bachmann’s win adds to her recent momentum and cements her standing in the top tier of contenders. She had shot to the top of opinion polls in Iowa this summer with the support of social conservatives and the fiscal conservative “Tea Party” movement.
Perry finished sixth with 3.6 percent of the vote even though he was not on the ballot. That was more than Romney, who was on the ballot, but did not participate in the poll. He finished seventh.
Finishing fourth on Saturday was former US senator Rick Santorum, with businessman Herman Cain in fifth ahead of Perry.