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It Begins: Bachmann, Perry at Same Iowa Event
Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are both campaigning in Iowa Sunday, the same day former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the GOP race. (Reuters)

It Begins: Bachmann, Perry at Same Iowa Event

"We see this as just the very first step in a very long race."

AMES, Iowa (AP) -- It might be a preview of the months ahead in the GOP presidential race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who just got into the race, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, fresh off an Iowa straw poll victory, were competing for attention Sunday as their campaign schedules put them at the same event.

Both have the backing of tea partyers and evangelical conservatives. Both already are making big plays for those two important constituencies in Iowa.

Perry was making his first campaign visit to Iowa since announcing his candidacy Saturday in South Carolina in a speech that emphasized his economic credentials and Texas' job growth, as well as his conservative stances on social issues and his faith.

The chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he's an establishment candidate who could be an attractive candidate for economic conservatives in this lead-off caucus state who are looking for a candidate to rally around. Enthusiasm for the GOP national front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his strong economic message has been muted.

Bachmann, who has risen in Iowa polls since entering the race this summer, was reveling in her first-place finish in the test vote Saturday that proved her campaign has the organizational skills and volunteer network needed to compete strongly in the state's caucuses next winter.

"We see this as just the very first step in a very long race," Bachmann said on NBC's "Meet the Press. "There's a lot of work to be done."

A candidate backed largely by the grass-roots, she appeared on all the Sunday morning news programs as she worked to broaden her appeal and challenge rivals more linked to the establishment.

In the straw poll, Bachmann edged past Texas Rep. Ron Paul to win the vote - getting 4,823 votes, or 29 percent, to 4,671, or 28 percent, for Paul out of nearly 17,000 cast. But she trounced home-state rival Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who had cast himself as an electable establishment choice but ended up drawing 2,293 votes, or 14 percent.

On Sunday, Pawlenty quit the race.

His exit means there's now an available contingent of top GOP staff and consultants, including former state party chairman, former advisers to President George W. Bush and senior advisers to Mike Huckabee's winning 2008 caucus campaign, including Sarah Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor's daughter. Top legislators who had signed on to Pawlenty's camp also now are free to rally behind other candidates.

It's not yet clear the size of the electorate Pawlenty frees up. But it's certain both Bachmann and Perry will try to go after his voters.

"I wish him well," Bachmann said, quick to praise Pawlenty, perhaps mindful of the need to broaden her appeal and reach his backers. "He brought a really important voice into the race and I am grateful that he was in. He was really a very good competitor."

Both Bachmann and Perry were scheduled to speak in a late-afternoon GOP fundraiser, the Black Hawk County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo.

It's Bachmann's birthplace, a point she has stressed everywhere while campaigning for the leadoff caucuses, and she wasn't willing to cede the spotlight to Perry. She changed her plans and decided to attend after Perry announced that he would make his Iowa debut at the event.

"I welcome anyone who's coming into the race, and I think it will be good competition for everyone," Bachmann said. "He'll run his campaign, we'll run ours, but we really look forward to that."

She said she was confident that voters would choose her over him "because I have a demonstrated, proven record that I will fight for what people care about."

Her straw poll victory is expected to give her a boost nationally, especially with fundraising. But it also makes her a target and comes with warnings. Only twice in the five straw polls since they were first held in 1980 has the winner gone on to capture the caucuses.

Romney won the straw poll four years ago, finished second in the caucuses and stumbled during the early primaries before quitting the 2008 race.

Just once did the straw poll winner take the GOP nomination. That was George W. Bush in 2000.

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