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Iowa Vote Early Test for Republican White House Contenders

Presidential hopefuls during the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa Aug 11, 2011

Presidential hopefuls during the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa Aug 11, 2011

Republican presidential contenders have gathered in the Midwest state of Iowa for an important early test ahead of next year’s U.S. election. Nine candidates are taking part in the Iowa straw poll, or test vote, on Saturday. But the event is being overshadowed somewhat by the latest candidate to get into the presidential race, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to formally enter the presidential race Saturday during a visit to South Carolina.

Perry is running in second or third place in most public opinion polls behind the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Perry recently held a prayer gathering in Houston that drew 30,000 people and has been speaking out about his vision for America.

“I will tell you, this West Texas optimist sees our brightest hour as just around the corner," said Perry.

Perry has a strong record of job creation in Texas and appeals to economic and social conservatives, key voting blocs within the party.

His announcement on Saturday will draw some attention away from the Republican straw poll in Iowa. Nine contenders are on the ballot, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

“America will be respected again in the world," said Bachmann. "That is what we need to do.”

Bachmann leads in opinion polls in Iowa and hopes a good showing on Saturday will boost her chances in next February’s Iowa presidential caucuses, the event that kicks off the U.S. presidential nominating process.

But several other lesser known Republicans are competing in Iowa and looking for a breakthrough on Saturday.

They include former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter.

Three more are on the ballot but are not actively campaigning. They include former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and the frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

Romney did attend a candidate’s debate in Iowa and took time with voters to emphasize his background in business and pledge to help those who create jobs.

“I like what you do," said Romney. "I like the fact that you hire people, that you pay taxes, that you grow our economy.”

The Iowa straw poll is seen as an important early test for the candidates ahead of next year’s presidential caucuses.

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn says it is a chance for lesser known contenders to build support and have an impact early in the race.

“It is a great opportunity to identify where your support is around the state and those candidates that aren’t here on Saturday, they are going to miss the opportunity," said Strawn.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin also is visiting Iowa but is not taking part in the straw poll. She is expected to announce next month whether she will join the Republican race.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.