Ron Paul, Bachmann, Need Ames Win
The Three Viable Dark Horses Seek To Boost Relevancy In Absence of Romney
Ron Paul in his official photo.
By John Monahan
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 10, 2011 — On the surface, Ames, Iowa, looks like a stereotypical midwestern college town of about 50,000. But this city — named after former U.S. Rep. Oakes Ames of Massachusetts as a testament to the man who given great credit for the Transcontinental Railroad — now hosts the biggest, early battle on the road to the republican presidential nomination thanks to the Ames Straw Poll.
First held in 1979, the straw poll is a modern creation designed to bolster Iowa’s intention to play a major role in presidential politics. The winner has only accurately predicated the eventual republican nomination two out of seven times. Only President Bush II won the Ames Straw Poll and the presidency.
The nature of the poll makes it an enigma. For young, up-and-coming candidates, the poll event stands as a barometer of whether they have the cash and organizational strength to sustain he campaign. It is also a marketing pot-of-gold. A good showing increases media attention and more importantly, contributions.
For savvy veterans like Ronald Reagan in 1979 and Mitt Romney this year, it is less important because of the cash and attention a symbolic win requires. The Ames Straw Poll, after all, does not truly count as a ‘win.’ Iowa awards it delegates in its caucuses, scheduled this coming year on Feb. 6. And, the winner of the Ames Straw Poll has gone on to win the Iowa Caucus only three out of seven times — if one includes Bob Dole’s tie with Phil Gramm in 1995.
Romney is not even fully participating in the Ames Straw Poll, which asks participating candidates to bid for where they can set up their mega booths, starting at $15,000. The three biggest players for this year’s poll — and those with the most to gain or win with a victory — are U.S. Reps. Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Paul thought he won the Ames Straw Poll in 2007, but was officially tagged as the fifth place finisher. He ‘aims’ to gain a different result this go around and has set a target of 2,000 voting supporters. His campaign feels 2,000 is the magic number for victory and that might be right. Romney won in 2007 with just a bit more than 4,500 votes.
But Paul’s rabid following are a great fit for a straw poll, and anything less than a top-three finish will be considered a failure. Or, maybe something will go screwy with the voting machines this time around as well — a complaint leveled by Paul supporters in 2007.
Bachmann, too will be expected to finish high — she has led the field in some recent polls of next year’s caucus-goers — and she has been crisscrossing the state and touting her Iowa birthplace for months. But the pressure is not on her for a win here, but a top-three finish. Anything else might raise doubts over the strength of her organization. A late starter, she has been travelling the state regularly, which helps her profile, but she has only had boots on the ground for a short time.
Both Paul and Bachmann need to finish near the top, but anything but a win might doom Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor would be the front runner if not for Romney. Every move Pawlenty has made since declaring his candidacy has been in anticipation of the Ames Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucuses. Anything but a first place or a close second-place finish might doom Pawlenty. Otherwise, he may join Tommy Thompson in Nowhereville.
The republican presidential candidate debate on Thursday will be crucial in impacting the votes on Saturday for the Ames Straw Poll with Pawlenty’s performance probably being the most crucial. But the real wild card might just try to pull a fast one Saturday night.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who won’t be at either Thursday’s debate nor present for Saturday’s caucuses, is expected to announce his candidacy Saturday night in an attempt to steal the thunder from whomever wins the Ames Straw Poll. A ‘grassroots’ campaign has already been started to include Perry as a write-in candidate in Ames on Saturday night.
If that happens, the ‘winners’ in Ames must then seize the narrative back from Perry — yet another test of a strong organization. But if either Paul, Bachmann or Pawlenty don’t finish in the top three, it won’t matter.
Either way, the political battle for the republican nomination will begin in earnest this weekend and set the tone heading into the Reagan Presidential Library debate in September and a debate in New Hampshire in early October. Iowa will then be next up again a mere three months later as it holds its caucus.
For Pawlenty, Bachmann and Paul, a sluggish finish in Ames might be the beginning of the end.
John Monahan is a freelance writer living in Connecticut.