Next, Iowa straw poll: Why it matters to GOP presidential candidates
Six candidates are actively competing in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday. Those who fare poorly may find that fundraising dries up. Those who do well may see an infusion of campaign cash.
Des Moines, Iowa
They will come from near and far, the most dedicated of Iowa Republicans, for a day of speeches, barbecue, and music. Most important, they will cast ballots in the first major test of the 2012 GOP presidential field: the Aug. 13 Iowa straw poll.Skip to next paragraph
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Granted, the vote – which takes place at Iowa State University in Ames – is nonbinding. Three of the nine candidates on the ballot that day aren’t even competing: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the national front-runner for the Republican nomination; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.; and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
But for the six taking part, who are the more conservative contenders in the field, it will matter a lot. Those who fare poorly may find that fundraising dries up and they have to drop out. Those who do well could find the wind in their sails – and a fresh influx of campaign cash – as they head into the Republican Party’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses, early next year.
IN PICTURES: Republicans in the 2012 presidential race
“The Ames straw poll is a good thing, because it shows what candidates have or don’t have in terms of organizational muster,” says Steve Scheffler, an Iowa Republican national committeeman and Christian conservative leader. “Based on past history, I’m guessing it will winnow the field.”
A three-way battle is shaping up among Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. A new poll of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers, released Monday by Rasmussen Reports, shows Congresswoman Bachmann in the lead with 22 percent, Congressman Paul at 16 percent, and Mr. Pawlenty at 11 percent. (Mr. Romney came in at 22 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at 12 percent, but neither is competing in the straw poll.) But Pawlenty could in fact do quite well, and even challenge Bachmann for first place.
Pawlenty’s big A-list campaign team in Iowa and organizational strength mean lots of Pawlenty buses heading to Ames. (Just how many, the campaign won’t reveal.) The campaign’s recent hire of Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a coup. Four years ago, she helped orchestrate the surprise second-place finish in Ames for her dad, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, by reaching out to Iowa’s extensive homeschooling network.
Paul’s ace is a committed cadre of supporters who will drive to the ends of the earth – or at least to Ames, the geographic center of Iowa – to cast ballots for him. His campaign also won’t say how many people are signed up to go, but one Des Moines-area Republican activist sees much more enthusiasm in Iowa for Paul’s libertarian/tea party brand than when the Texan ran in 2008.