Stakes are High in Iowa Straw Poll for 2012 GOP Hopefuls
Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty hope for strong showings in Ames
Around the State
With the Iowa Republicans hosting a straw poll in Ames on Saturday as a prelude to the first presidential caucus in February, some Republican hopefuls have a lot riding on the event.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he has downplayed the Iowa straw poll. While Romney has made a few trips to the Hawkeye State, including an appearance on Thursday before a debate with the other candidates, he has focused on New Hampshire, site of the first primary. Romney’s supporters want their man to do well Saturday -- but if it happens, he can shrug off a poor showing
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has a lot at stake in the straw poll. Since entering the race in June, Bachmann has surged in the polls, though her momentum in recent surveys has stalled a bit. With roots in the state from her childhood, Bachmann has focused like a laser on Iowa and she has built a formidable organization. Bachmann hopes to parlay a strong showing in Ames into establishing her as the chief conservative challenger to Romney. But she has competition in the form of two possible candidates who have not entered the race -- Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. Perry is expected to launch his campaign in the coming days and Palin unexpectedly turned her attention to Iowa on Friday as part of her bus tour across the nation. If Bachmann stumbles in Ames, conservatives may look at other options -- namely, Perry and Palin.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, is back and it appears that he will be more of a force in Ames this time. Paul has one of the most dedicated followings in recent memory. His supporters argue that, with the current economic climate, more voters are rallying to Paul and his libertarian message. A strong showing in Ames can help show that Paul can appeal to other Republicans besides his cadre of passionate backers.
With the possible exception of Bachmann, no GOP hopeful has as much riding on Ames as her fellow Minnesotan former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Despite an impressive campaign team and high expectations, Pawlenty has not taken off in polls at the state or national level and has not done well with fundraising. Pawlenty has focused on Iowa and has a solid organization. Despite efforts from his campaign team to set the bar low, Pawlenty needs to do well in Ames. A victory or an impressive showing can put Pawlenty back in the game; a poor showing could be the final nail in the coffin of his presidential ambitions. It’s happened before in Ames. Despite a strong showing in 1996 and a focus on Iowa, a poor showing in the straw poll ended Lamar Alexander’s presidential campaign back in 1999. Tommy Thompson also pulled the plug on his presidential bid in 2007 after a lousy showing in Ames.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is hoping he can appeal to enough conservatives for an impressive showing in Ames. Santorum has not been able to hang with his rivals on fundraising, but he and his family have been hitting Iowa hard, having spent the last three weeks touring the state. If Santorum is going to make a breakthrough, it will have to be in Iowa. A poor showing by the former senator in Ames could lead to increased buzz that his campaign is doomed.
Businessman Herman Cain, a favorite of the tea party movement, made the mistake of saying he needed to place in the top three in Ames to continue his candidacy. Cain has tried to walk back that statement but his campaign has not experienced the breakthrough that some were expecting. There has been a bit of turnover in Cain’s staff in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Cain is in danger of being eclipsed by other conservatives, including Bachmann, Palin and Perry. A strong showing in Ames will help keep Cain in the conservative spotlight and show he can be a serious contender for the nomination.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia started the race as one of the top contenders but he has stumbled badly. While Gingrich made a few appearances in Iowa, he has written off the straw poll and is not expected to do well in Ames.
Despite high expectations, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, has struggled in the polls. Huntsman has gone out of his way to avoid Iowa, preferring to focus on New Hampshire and Florida where he has based his campaign. It’s telling that Huntsman will spend the weekend in New Hampshire while the other candidates focus on Ames. He is not expected to do well in Ames.
U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter of Michigan is a newcomer to the race and has done little in the way of building a campaign in Iowa or across the nation. The expectations are extremely low for McCotter in Iowa.
There are some Republican hopefuls who will not be included in the straw poll. While former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama made a few appearances in Iowa, he was not included in the straw poll. Former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico is more focused on New Hampshire where he hopes his libertarian message will do better. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana has also been focused on New Hampshire.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.