On the day of the first real test of the Republican 2012 presidential primary race, candidates dependent on a strong showing in Iowa have gone all-in with rallying their supporters in Ames for the Iowa Straw Poll, hoping to make a name for themselves and emerge from a crowded field.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty isn't holding back on his criticism of President Barack Obama. Pawlenty described Obama as being "like a manure spreader in a windstorm," drawing loud cheers from a crowd of GOP activists in Ames at about (1:50) of his straw poll speech:
Pawlenty said that Republican candidates have to show that they can back up their words with actions. Pawlenty pointed to his record as a conservative governor in a strongly Democratic state, which he says speaks for itself. He notes that his performance in Minnesota, is evidence that he can take conservative policies nationwide.
The Republican presidential candidate and avid libertarian thinker said on Saturday that government cannot play God and make decisions on abortions. He says -- quote "all life is precious" and must be defended.
Rep. Paul also highlighted his opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the PATRIOT Act. He says the United States cannot defend liberty abroad while denying U.S. citizens their own rights.
Rep. Paul called U.S. foreign policy misguided, and repeated his call to audit the Federal Reserve. Rep. Paul along with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann brought in particularly large numbers of supporters to Ames Saturday. Politico reports that Bachmann gave away 6,000 tickets to the event.
Republican presidential hopeful and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum says he'll never back down from his focus on social issues, including opposing abortion and fighting gay rights.
Santorum says the GOP has to be about more than just cutting taxes and spending. He says those who want to ignore social issues don't understand the party and they don't understand Iowa.
Santorum told activists at the straw poll that "I will not back down" on pushing those hot-button issues. Santorum says his candidacy has been written off by much of the media. But he says he's campaigned for the state's leadoff caucuses more than any of his GOP rivals and will continue to do that.
CNN reports that the consensus among Iowa GOP insiders is that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Texas Rep. Ron Paul will take the top three positions in the nonbinding vote.
Results are expected around 5:00 p.m. central time.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.