The Ames Straw Poll: Winners and losers

Few comments from experts.

Timothy Hagle, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Iowa

Let me begin by noting that a major purpose of the Straw Poll is to provide an initial test of organizational strength for the candidates. How the candidates do in that test may determine whether they continue on to the caucuses in February. It’s also a matter of meeting or exceeding expectations. Even a candidate who does relatively well, but fails to meet expectations might end up dropping out of the race. Conversely, a candidate expected to finish near the bottom of the pack, but ends up in the middle will be seen as making progress and can likely continue in the race.

As for the results, most of the candidates met or exceeded expectations for them. Bachmann was expected to win and she did. Paul normally does well in straw polls and did so here. In fact, given that he finished fifth with about 1,300 votes in the 2007 Straw Poll, his second place tally of 4,671 votes has to be seen as a tremendous improvement. Pawlenty’s third place finish is what he needed to stay in the race, but he has to be disappointed that the gap between him and Paul is so large. Santorum was struggling in the polls but worked very hard the last three weeks, so his fourth place finish can be seen as a success. Cain’s fifth place finish is okay given the troubles he has had on the campaign trail. Although Perry wasn’t officially on the ballot he got 718 write-in votes, which beat Romney and the rest of the field. Although Perry wasn’t an official candidate until the day of the poll there was a group trying to organize on his behalf. Even so, that many write-in votes can be seen as a very good start for someone who hasn’t been in Iowa this election cycle. Romney could dismiss his low total of 567 because he said he wasn’t competing in the Straw Poll. Even so, he said he plans to compete in the caucuses, so he needs to be a bit concerned that Perry beat him. Plus, in 2007 Romney got 4,516 votes at the Straw Poll. Even though he didn’t organize to get his supporters to the poll this year, he needs to be concerned that more didn’t come. There were no expectations for Huntsman who is skipping Iowa entirely, so his low total doesn’t affect him. McCotter is little known to Iowa voters and hasn’t mounted much of a campaign, so his last place finish isn’t very surprising.

The last candidate to mention is Gingrich. Although he said he wasn’t competing in the Straw Poll, he is very well known among Republicans and he has done well in prior polls so his poor showing has to be a major disappointment.

Given the various difficulties that Gingrich has had with his staff and finances, my best guess is that he will leave the race. I expect McCotter to drop out as well. Pawlenty and Cain can probably continue if they wish, provided they can still attract donors and supporters.

I don’t believe that Perry’s announcement diminishes the Straw Poll results. It’s still a matter of expectations for the candidates already in the race. What Perry does is shake things up among those that will go forward from here. As much as Bachmann had a strong victory, Perry could cut into that given that he also speaks to the fiscal and social conservatives and also has the executive experience that many Republicans prefer. In a somewhat different way, Perry could also cut into Pawlenty’s support in that he is also a governor who has gotten results. As much as Pawlenty has tried to compete for the social conservatives, Perry can probably do a better job with them and Perry has connections with establishment Republicans and, more important, donors.

Perry may make a splash as he enters the race, but he will still need to come to Iowa and put in the work necessary to convince Iowa Republicans that he deserves their support (and he is scheduled to be here on Sunday). People will take a close look at his record and the other candidates will certainly try to explain why their records are better. Again, a few candidates will likely drop out and the campaigns and voters can focus on those remaining as we move forward to the caucuses.

Steffen Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science, Iowa State University

First – Does the Ames Straw Poll matter? One of my most trusted sources says YES!

… Ames has a pretty good predictive track record. Since the event began in 1979, the candidate winning the Iowa caucus has placed first or second in the straw poll every time. Two successes in particular stand out. In 1979, George H.W. Bush won Ames despite polling at just 1 percent in a Des Moines Register survey — he went on to win the Iowa caucus. And in 2007 Mike Huckabee, in the low single digits in both state and national polls, finished second in the straw poll, the first tangible indicator of his upside in Iowa. New York Times, “Why Ames Actually Matters” By NATE SILVER

Technically Michelle Bachmann won the Ames straw poll. No surprise. She worked hard for it and invested major resources to get her supporters out! She was born in Iowa too so that was a huge asset.

But, Ron Paul was so close that it makes her “victory” (less than 200 votes) a pyrrhic victory! No one expects Paul to get the nomination so it’s an embarrassment for Michelle. The headlines are popping up as I write this –‘Bachmann Narrowly Beats Ron Paul.” Hardy what she wants to see in the blogs, Tweets and on Fox!

But this is the world of BS so the media is saying; “The win is likely to provide the Minnesota Republican considerable momentum as the 2012 race ramps up.” I agree that it will keep her fundraising up, she has bragging rights and it keeps her flame very bright and hot. BUT, she held a tenuous first place in a rapidly changing and dangerous environment. By the way, her big rival, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty placed third with 2,293 (a poor showing but he will stay in). This was followed by Rick Santorum and then Herman Cain.

Ron Paul actually won the straw poll because it’s an expectations game. Paul has a passionate following and is a great problem for other GOP candidates because he is so organized, can raise a ton of money, and is likable like Ronald Reagan.

Rick Perry got 718 write-in votes without showing up at all so for all practical purposes he came in second – in my book. If he’d been contesting my question is – “How Would Rick Perry Have Done?”

Santorum can claim victory because he was NOWHERE before this so a fourth place is good and he will stay in and keep being the most Christian conservative in the field. He said he hoped for a fourth or fifth place so he’s exceeded his own prediction!

Conclusion: This is now a wide open race. The Iowa caucuses will be very tight and exciting. Texas Gov Rick Perry who announced for President as the Ames poll was unfolding and former Mass Gov. Mitt Romney are the “Big Boys” in this contest by anyone’s measure and they did not play in Iowa so far. Some of the other candidates who did poorly should consider a different line of work than President of the United States! I won’t mention names so as to not embarrass some of my friends.

And more acidid conclusion: Some of the other candidates who did poorly should consider a different line of work than President of the United States (POTUS)! Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, got 385; Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, 69; and Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter, 35. Time to check out of the POTUS hotel guys.

David Peterson, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Iowa State University

The results of the Straw Poll will dovetail nicely with Perry’s announcement today. There are clearly three leading candidates in the race: Mitt Romney (who leads most polls), Rick Perry, and today’s winner Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann is current favorite to win the Iowa Caucus , which will be an important step in the race.

Rick Perry will be seen as a co-winner today given his announcement, but that is premature. He will see the same pattern in his poll numbers that every other candidate does. Right now, all of his press is positive. It explains who he is and what he brings to the race. In the next week or so, the narrative will turn to his problems, and there are a lot of policies he pushed as governor that won’t play well with Republican voters.

The clear loser today was Tim Pawlenty. He needed to do better than a distant third to be seen as a top tier candidate. He can still win the caucus here, but it is an uphill fight that will probably require someone like Bachmann to collapse. It isn’t unheard of though. John Kerry was buried in the polls in 2004 and mounted a late surge to win the Iowa Caucus and, eventually, the nomination.

The other person helped today was Ron Paul, who finished second. But this wasn’t a surprise and probably says more about his limitations than his successes. There was a lot of talk among more establishment Republicans that they didn’t want Paul to win and ended up backing Bachmann to make sure of this. Paul will attract more than 20% at every event and election, but he probably won’t get over 30% at any event.


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