News Center

August 15th, 2011

Ames Straw Poll Winners and Losers

Although Michele Bachmann garnered the highest vote total in the Ames Straw Poll, she was not the only winner of the day.’s Craig Robinson and Kevin Hall breakdown the results and the impact they will have on each campaign.

1. Michele Bachmann – 4,823 votes

Kevin Hall:  This is a tremendous victory for Bachmann.  Her Iowa staff was able to harness her star power and assemble a very well organized campaign.  Here is a text book example of how they won the Straw Poll: early Saturday afternoon, they were calling people who had committed to vote for Bachmann but had not yet shown up in Ames.  That means they were paying tremendous attention to the details necessary to win.  Bachmann solidified her Iowa frontrunner status with this victory.

Craig Robinson:  Bachmann’s ability to garner more votes at the Straw Poll than Mitt Romney did four years ago is extremely impressive.  Bachmann got into the race late in mid-June, while other candidates had been cultivating relationships in Iowa for the last couple of years.  If you are looking for the secret to her success, I think it was her campaign’s willingness to act and look like the frontrunner.

Twice on Saturday, the Bachmann campaign contacted me to let me know there was still time to vote.  Those sorts of efforts may have allowed her to get the few hundred votes she needed to edge out Ron Paul.  Bachmann’s campaign also did a good job of identifying households that support her.  They didn’t just send you ticket vouchers for each individual, they gave you vouchers that allowed you to bring up to four people with you.  If the pleasant weather aided anyone yesterday, it was Bachmann.  She was the biggest name and had the biggest draw in Randy Travis.  Putting those vouchers in people’s hands helped people grab a few friends and head to Ames.

2. Ron Paul – 4,671 votes

Kevin Hall:  Paul picked up 155 more votes than Mitt Romney did when he won the Straw Poll in 2007.  Congressman Paul’s campaign put an enormous amount of money and effort into this event and did a tremendous job. However, this loss is a significant blow to Paul’s Iowa Caucus chances.  He has a long history of winning straw polls and online ballots, but was unable to capture the top prize at the most important straw poll of them all.  Paul would be considered a contender had he won.  Instead, he will continue to be marginalized.  Great job by his campaign, but this is a significant disappointment for them not to win.

Craig Robinson:  The Paul campaign should be congratulated for their impressive straw poll performance.  The higher than expected turn out due to the weather and all the attention the event received since it was done in conjunction with a Fox News debate allowed Bachmann to eek out a win over a very well organized Paul campaign.   People are either Paul supporters or they are not.  That means almost all of the people who just came out to watch the circus in Ames on Saturday were not likely to support him.  There is no way getting almost 5000 votes is a negative thing for Paul.  Paul got 11,817 votes in the 2008 caucuses, his support in the Straw Poll indicates that he will perform much better in February.


3. Tim Pawlenty – 2,293 votes

Kevin Hall: Devastating results.  The Straw Poll was T-Paw’s last chance to show he is a contender in this race.  He not only failed, he got less than half the votes of the second place finisher.  Pawlenty’s enormous and well-connected organization cannot overcome his shortcomings as a candidate.  He has failed to tap into Mitt Romney’s base of support, which he needed, and his two year Iowa odyssey will soon come to an end as the money dries up.  Pawlenty does not want to admit it, but it’s time to turn out the lights.  The party’s over.

Craig Robinson:  The Pawlenty team seemed to be gaining confidence as the Straw Poll neared, but the fact that the second place finisher had twice as many votes as he did probably means that Ames was the end of the road for his campaign.  Pawlenty spent massive amounts of money running TV ads, hiring Iowa staffer and consultants.  It didn’t matter.  Pawlenty’s problem wasn’t that he wasn’t likable, its that he couldn’t motivate people.

Third place has always been a deadly place to finish in the Straw Poll.  Elizabeth Dole finished third in 1999, and her campaign folded a month later.  In 2008, Sam Brownback finished third, and he eventually had to drop out of the race.  The reason that a non-binding event like the Straw Poll winnows the field is that it will kill someone’s fundraising ability.  There is just no way that Pawlenty can spin his distant third place finish to donors, especially with a guy like Perry now in the race.  Pawlenty will be out of the race by the time the next fundraising report is due.

4. Rick Santorum – 1,657 votes

Kevin Hall: Santorum’s campaign had a much larger “hard count” Saturday morning than the number of votes they actually received.  His staff thought there was a chance to shock a lot of people.  Fourth place is a disappointment but is not a terrible finish for Santorum, who is running a shoestring campaign.  He garnered some momentum during his recent tour of Iowa and strong debate performances.  Santorum has decided to campaign Sunday at the Black Hawk County GOP fundraiser that also features Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, so it appears he will continue to in the race.  Perhaps Santorum feels the need to make sure the issues he cares deeply about are at the forefront in this campaign.

Craig Robinson:  Santorum kind of finished in no-mans land.  Had he beaten Pawlenty, Santorum would have been the talk of the town.  Still, Santorum’s finish does not signal the end of the road like it does for Pawlenty.  Unlike the candidates that finished ahead of him, Santorum didn’t run radio or TV ads.  That means he worked hard for each of those 1,657 votes.

The other reason why Ames is not the end of the road for Santorum is the issues.  Santorum has honed in his message while campaigning in Iowa over the past three weeks.  He has effectively drawn distinctions between himself and Perry and Bachmann.  In fact, he’s clobbered Perry for his remarks on New York legalizing gay marriage.  Both Perry and Bachmann needed Santorum out of this race, but he lives to fight another day so long as he can keep enough money in the campaign’s coffers.

5. Herman Cain – 1,456 votes

Kevin Hall: A wise woman once said, “If you don’t start campaigning heavily in Iowa, you’re looking at fifth place.”

Craig Robinson:  Herman Cain really needed to beat Santorum, especially if Santorum is able to stay in the race.  Cain had every opportunity to do well in the straw poll, but his decision to spend time outside of Iowa at the very moment that candidates like Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Santorum were visiting the state frequently proved to be a deadly decision for Cain.  He’s probably going to stay in the race, but we will have to wait and see how he handles Iowa from here on out.

6. Rick Perry – 718 votes

Kevin Hall: This is an amazing total for a write-in candidate.  Perry could have wreaked havoc on the top three if his name was on the ballot and Americans for Perry had been allowed to purchase a tent space.  This shows Iowans are not satisfied with the field and spells trouble for Bachmann now that Perry is officially in the race.

Craig Robinson: Color me impressed.  With no candidate, no booth, or no actual name on the ballot, Americans for Perry, a 527 group that is not affiliated with his campaign, got a quite a few people to write their guy in.  Besting Romney has to have the Perry people giddy, but let’s not forget, they worked pretty hard for those 718 votes.  TV ads and all of the news coverage of his Saturday announcement didn’t hurt either.

7. Mitt Romney – 567 votes

Kevin Hall: Romney put no effort into the Straw Poll.  He wasn’t there, did not buy tickets for supporters, and did not ask them to vote for him.  The fact that 567 people still spent $30 each to cast their ballot for Romney shows he still has strong support in Iowa.

Craig Robinson:  This is about where I had Romney pegged in my predictions.  Whether I agree with Romney’s decision to downplay Iowa is inconsequential.  Romney has support in Iowa.  We will have to wait and see whether or not he will reengage Iowa now that the Straw Poll is over.

8. Newt Gingrich – 385 votes

Kevin Hall: Poor Newt.  He could have been a contender in this race if he had listened to his advisors and campaigned hard here.  Newt won the debate Thursday night and probably picked up a few votes from that.  He put no money into it, but did attend the event.  This is about the number I expected for him.

Craig Robinson:  I don’t think this is such a bad finish for Gingrich.  Gingrich didn’t participate in the event because he couldn’t afford it.  He was on the grounds Saturday.  He spoke to a jammed packed tent at Soapbox, but other than that, he didn’t have a presence there or purchase tickets for supporters.  I’m intrigued by his strategy.  I’ll have more thoughts on Newt later this week.

9. Jon Huntsman – 69 votes

Kevin Hall: I’m surprised he got that many votes.

Craig Robinson:  Good for him.

10. Thad McCotter – 35 votes

Kevin Hall: Pretty sad for Thad, finishing behind Huntsman.  He would have gotten a few more votes if he had been allowed in Thursday’s debate.  McCotter has no name recognition, and his campaign is going nowhere.  He does play a mean guitar, though.

Craig Robinson:  Maybe I have a soft spot for McCotter.  In many respects, McCotter got what he wanted – a big introduction to the people of Iowa.  I’m told he got half a dozen invitations to speak from local county GOP chairs who had previously never heard of him.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

Enhanced by Zemanta

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

blog comments powered by Disqus