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Republican Presidential Hopefuls Prepare for Iowa Test Vote

U.S. Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul (L), Mitt Romney (2nd L), Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty (R) gather before the start of their debate in Ames, Iowa August 11, 2011.

Republican presidential candidates are giving speeches and greeting voters in the Midwestern state of Iowa in advance of a straw poll, or test vote. The Saturday vote will be an early indication of support for those hoping to challenge President Barack Obama in next year’s election. Candidates who do well in the straw poll often have an advantage when the nomination battle begins in earnest, with the Iowa presidential caucuses early next year.

Nine Republicans are on the ballot, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

“Make Barack Obama a one-term president, turn the economy around, grow the economy," Bachman told voters, "grow jobs and we will restore the promise of the future to the next generation. It will happen.”

If Bachmann does well in the straw poll, it could move her closer to the current Republican frontrunner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Romney campaigned in Iowa, but is skipping the straw poll to focus instead on the early primary state of New Hampshire, where he is hammering away at President Obama’s handling of the economy.

“The truth is that the buck does stop at the president’s desk," noted Romney, "and he needs to exert the leadership necessary to restore America’s financial foundation.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to join the Republican race soon and public opinion polls indicate he is a potentially strong contender.

“When I see Americans going to work every day to make a better life for their children I know that our country’s best days are still ahead of us,” Perry said.

Political strategist Mark Penn says the straw poll is the first opportunity for the public to focus on some little-known Republican contenders.

“They clearly don’t have somebody who the American public thinks of as on an equal footing yet with President Obama," explained Penn. "Perry, again, could shake up the race somewhat. He has got a strong background as governor and no one is really dominating in the field.”

A strong showing in the straw poll could set the stage for success in Iowa's presidential caucuses next year.

In 2008, Barack Obama's victory in the caucuses was his springboard to win the Democratic Party nomination - and eventually, the White House.

Slideshow of Republican candidates

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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.