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Romney dismisses buzz over rising challengers

Suddenly facing two serious rivals, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney declared Monday his business background sets him apart in the presidential race and dismissed the buzz over emerging challengers as "the political winds of the day." Rick Perry insisted no one could go "toe to toe" with him, and rising star Michele Bachmann tried to turn her Iowa straw poll victory into gains against both men.

In less than a week, the slow-to-begin race for the Republican nomination has accelerated and undergone a dramatic shift, essentially becoming a three-way contest for the chance to challenge President Obama next year.

Romney, who has been riding high for months while other Republicans have been struggling to emerge from the pack, now finds himself facing two significant foes in Perry, the Texas governor who formally entered the race only Saturday, and Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who won the Iowa straw poll that same day.

"It's a wide-open race," Gov. Terry Branstad declared.

While Perry entered the nomination battle, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, exited, reshuffling the deck.

Over the next few months, Romney, Bachmann and Perry will try to win over a GOP electorate angry at the change Obama has brought and looking for a candidate who has the right mix of credentials to beat the incumbent Democrat.

Romney, who lost the nomination in 2008, hasn't been able to unite warring factions of the GOP electorate since entering the race earlier this year. By Monday, the three Republicans with the strongest chance of winning the nomination fanned out across early primary states, all looking for the upper hand just as Obama opened a three-day Midwest bus tour.

Romney emerged in Litchfield, N.H., Perry was in Iowa and Bachmann prepared for a bus tour that starts today in South Carolina.