In U.S. presidential politics the focus will be on the Midwestern state of Iowa this week, where Republicans will hold an unofficial test vote on their party's presidential hopefuls on Saturday. The Iowa Straw Poll, as the event is known, effectively kicks off the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination next year.
The Iowa Straw Poll is an early test of popularity and organizing strength for the crowded field of Republican presidential contenders.
Those who do well in the test vote will be well-positioned to compete in the Iowa presidential caucuses next February, the event that begins the state by state presidential nominating process.
Nine Republican contenders have their names on the Iowa Straw Poll ballot, including Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who has become a favorite with social conservatives and supporters of the budget-cutting Tea Party movement.
“Make Barack Obama a one-term president and turn the country around, grow the economy, grow jobs and we will restore the promise of the future to the next generation," she said. "It will happen!”
Others taking part in the straw poll include Texas Representative Ron Paul, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
“Our goal is to move from second tier to somewhere in the top tier," Pawlenty said. "I don’t think we have to win the straw poll but we do have to show some progress.”
One contender who is not competing in the Iowa event is the current frontrunner in the Republican presidential field, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Like many of the other Republican contenders, Romney has focused on the recent spate of bad news about the domestic economy, including the recent downgrade of America's creditworthiness by the Standard & Poor’s financial rating agency.
“The truth is the buck [responsibility] does stop at the president’s desk, and he needs to exert the leadership necessary to restore America’s financial foundation,” he said.
While the focus of the U.S. presidential race will be in Iowa this week, there is also attention on another potential Republican contender.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to announce a decision soon on whether he will join the Republican field. Perry has appeal to various groups in the Republican Party, including economic conservatives, Tea Party activists and social conservatives.
Perry spoke recently at a religious rally he organized in Houston that drew about 30,000 people.
“Our heart breaks for America. And as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us," he said. "And for that, we cry out for your forgiveness.”
Perry has already jumped into second or third place in several public opinion surveys, behind Romney, even though he has yet to join the race.
Many analysts say Perry will appeal to conservative Republicans in a way that Mitt Romney does not.
“Mitt Romney is the most organized and likely to have the best fundraising and so he has some institutional advantages," said John Fortier, who monitors U.S. politics at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. "Mitt Romney’s chore this time is to persuade the base [of the Republican Party] that he is conservative enough, especially on health care.”
Some conservative activists are excited by the prospect of Perry joining the race.
Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says the Texas governor could unify various factions of the Republican Party.
“The real challenge for the Republicans is finding a candidate who can appeal to both the Tea Party wing and the party establishment wing," he said. "Obviously, Mr. Romney’s challenge is to broaden his appeal to the Tea Party wing and the other candidates have to try to have a foot in both camps.”
In addition to Rick Perry, two other prominent Republicans are considering a run for the White House next year. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani say they will announce their decisions next month.