AMES – The big day for Iowa Republicans and the presidential candidates who desperately want their support has arrived in Ames.
The polls have opened and the GOP’s makeshift tent city is abuzz with activities as throngs of Republicans gather to hear speeches from the six presidential candidates directly participating in today’s party fundraiser.
The colorful, carnival-like scene outside of Hilton Coliseum on the Iowa State University campus is pure Americana with the competing candidates and a host of issue-related interests (pushing ideas like wind energy, gun rights, health care and support for senior citizens) vying for the attention of GOP activists and 700 journalists on hand to witness the proceedings.
GOP candidates who have purchased tent space to offer food, drink and entertainment to the straw poll attendees included Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, business executive Herman Cain of Georgia, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Also on today’s ballot are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Participants also can write in other choices, such as and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Balloting ends at 4 p.m.
Santorum arrived at the event parking lot at 7 a.m. to greet the party faithful, hoping a personal touch and first impression would carry into the voting booth.
“We’re here, we’re first,” said Santorum, who brought his family with him to the ISU campus. “I’ve been working the tents, saying hello to people, doing TV interviews.”
John Strong of West Des Moines showed up dressed as Uncle Sam and drawing attention to health care for veterans. Others donned Minute Men costumes to promote Bachmann’s candidacy.
Today’s event also has drawn the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who said the 2012 presidential race will offer a sharp contrast for voters.
She said it didn’t matter which Republican wins the GOP nomination because “they are all hell-bent to getting to the right of one another.”