Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bachmann Wins Straw Poll, Perry In, Pawlenty Out

Bachmann Beats Back the Ron Paul Machine
Ron Paul has a knack for good showings in straw polls, a fact evidenced many times over his previous attempts at running for President. His support base is obviously a minority of the Republican party, but they are highly enthusiastic, show up and Paul is always well funded. So it is not insignificant that Michelle Bachmann was able to show up as a Presidential newbie and beat Paul in the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, the first official test of GOP Presidential candidates in Iowa.

Front-runner Mitt Romney had basically not decided to participate, probably a savvy move since he was not going to win either the straw poll or the Iowa caucuses, which cater to the more conservative wing of the party. His strategy is to dominate the more moderate New Hampshire primary and ride that win to national victory.

Jon Huntsman was also not in the game, as an even more moderate candidate than Romney. His strategy is...well...I'm honestly not really sure. He has no shot that I can see against Romney in New Hampshire and will get swamped by the right wing in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina. But I digress.

The results of the straw poll were as follows:
Michelle Bachmann -- 29%
Ron Paul -- 28%
Tim Pawlenty -- 14%
Rick Santorum -- 10%
Herman Cain -- 9%
Rick Perry (Write-In) -- 4%
Mitt Romney -- 3%
Newt Gingrich -- 2%
Various Others -- 1% (Jon Huntsman - 0.4%, Thaddeus McCotter 0.2%, etc.)

These results solidify Bachmann's standing as the Tea Party alternative to the more mainstream Romney, but she has to look over her shoulder at Rick Perry, a Tea Party darling who has actually governed.

So, in my book the winners are:
Bachmann -- solidified as a legitimate candidate.
Paul -- encouraging enough to him to keep running (although he has no shot at actually getting the nomination.)
Santorum -- 10% means that the underfunded Santorum will keep getting invited to debates although I give him zero chance of getting the nod.
Cain -- similarly, a 9% showing makes him a legitimate alternative, but again, with no chance of the ultimate prize

The big losers:
Pawlenty -- staked his campaign on a win in Iowa (more on that in a second.)
Gingrich -- it is obvious at this point that the conservative establishment Republican delights neither conservatives nor the establishment. He should probably drop out, but I think he is enjoying the stage.
McCotter -- okay, he wasn't getting invited to debates anyway. But betting your whole campaign on Ames and getting 0.2% is pretty pathetic for the a guy who actually holds elected office.

Perry Gets In
Rick Perry will be THE subject of the next Republican Presidential debate on September 7th. And he is instantly in the top 2 candidates. He brings to the race an unblemished economic and social conservative and a great economic story in Texas. His liabilities will be that he is far less polished and likely not to be as strong a debate performer as front-runner Mitt Romney and that he has expressed some views in the past that would be huge liabilities in the general election, including expressing potential support for Texas succession (although if you read the actual quote, it is less extreme than it is usually represented, but still bad) and a very absolutist view on social and religious issues.

His candidacy clearly hurts Michelle Bachmann as he is a more polished and accomplished representative of the same basic points of view. Bachmann inspired early and is still in the game with the Ames win, but it gets harder and harder for her, with the race looking a lot like a mainstream New England moderate pitted against a southern conservative, a classic GOP civil war.

Pawlenty Out
Recognizing the reality on the ground, Tim Pawlenty is exiting stage left. It's a shame, in a way. Pawlenty had a great record as a moderate governor of a purple state. He was smart and accomplished. But Pawlenty never established a core constituency, moderates were already aligned to Romney and conservatives far preferred Bachmann or Perry. Pawlenty bet the farm on the Ames poll, and after not being able to crack the top 2, exiting stage left this morning.

This is a three-way race between Romney, Perry and Bachmann at this point. The others will make a little noise, Paul with libertarians, Santorum with social conservatives and Cain with the populist talk-radio crowd, but none can win the nod.

Lots more debates and lots of time to come. Heck, Sarah Palin could even get in (although I'd advise against it, I think she'd get rolled against this field.)

Let the games continue.

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