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August 12th, 2011
 

August Surprise? Can Ron Paul Win the Iowa Straw Poll?

Accurately predicting what will happen at the Ames Straw Poll is much more difficult than predicting the outcome of a traditional primary or general election contest.  My opinions on how each candidate will perform change all of the time.  The race in Iowa is as wide open as I have ever seen it, and the only thing I’m sure about is that anything can happen.

What makes the straw poll so difficult to predict is that nobody has a clue about how many people will actually cast a vote.  If turnout is high, I think that’s good news for Michele Bachmann.  High turnout for me would be anything above 16,000 votes.  If Turn out is 12,000 or lower I think it’s anybody’s ball game, but the advantage would shift to Ron Paul.

The other factor that must be discussed is the impact of the Fox News debate just two days before the straw poll.  The first debate propelled Herman Cain from obscurity to a nationally known figure.  The second debate ignited Michele Bachmann’s campaign and sent it into the stratosphere.

The third debate could have a similar impact on another candidate either positively or negatively.  Who knows, it could also suppress the votes for one candidate while giving someone else a boost.  More activists are undecided this year due to the late start of the caucus campaigns.  That means there are more votes to be gained or lost at Thursday’s debate.

Here are my predictions.  Those who are trying to predict the percentage of the vote someone gets at the straw poll are wasting their time.  Percentages are meaningless.  What counts in Ames is raw votes.  The hardest thing to predict is total votes.  My guess is that it will be somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000.

As always, feel free to disagree in the comment section.

First Place: Ron Paul

Needs: More space on the grounds for his supporters
Expectations: What expectations?  He plays by his own rules
Prediction: 3200 votes

I might not agree with all of Ron Paul’s policies, but I like how this campaign operates.  The Paul campaign is focused on what it needs to do and doesn’t try to look and feel like your typical campaign.

The other night I received a robo call from “Robert.”  Robert asked, do you know who has been called the champion of the Constitution and the taxpayer’s best friend?  Robert then says if you get the answer correct, you win a free ticket, a ride to, and food at the Ames Straw Poll.

The call may seem silly, but it’s actually brilliant because it identifies only Ron Paul supporters.  The last thing you want to do is transport and feed someone else’s supporters in Ames.  I called the number back and left my answer.  Seconds later a very nice staffer or volunteer called me back to inform me that I “won.”

Ron Paul received just over 1300 votes at the 2007 straw poll.  Paul’s campaign wasn’t nearly as organized then as it is today.  Paul doesn’t campaign like the rest of the candidates, he focuses on the parts of the state where he has a base of support and builds off of it.

I have no doubt that Paul could double his vote total from four years ago, but I actually think he can do better than that.  The Paul campaign is impressive, and they are well organized.

The media and other campaigns would probably want to render the straw poll irrelevant if he wins, but winning in Ames requires motivating Iowans.  It’s not like he can bus kids in from around the country like he does at CPAC.  A victory in Iowa would mean the Paul campaign simply out-worked the rest of the field and I think they can do it.

Second Place: Michele Bachmann

Needs: High Turnout
Expectations: Super High
Prediction: 3000 votes

Michele Bachmann’s expectations are extremely high for a candidate who has only officially been in the race for just over two months.  In many respects, Bachmann’s expectations are the same as Romney had to deal with four years ago.  While that might seem unrealistic, Bachmann has brought it on herself.

Bachmann talked about the importance of the Ames Straw Poll long before she officially entered that race.  That means that she clearly understood what she was getting into when she announced her candidacy on June 13th at the New Hampshire CNN debate.

Bachmann has used her Iowa roots to endear herself to Iowa voters.  It’s worked well, but now everybody expects the hometown girl who is leading in the polls to put up a big win in Ames.  Her expectations are also increased by the fact that she is way in front of the rest of the field of candidates who are participating in the straw poll.  In the TIR Poll, Bachmann led Tim Pawleny by 16 points.

While there is plenty of hype and momentum surrounding Bachmann’s candidacy, her campaign is nothing like the campaigns that have turned out 4000 or more people to the straw poll in past years.  Only three campaigns have surpassed the 4000-vote level, George W. Bush (7,418), Steve Forbes (4,921), and Mitt Romney (4,516).  What did all of those three campaigns have in common?  Massive grassroots organizations and big Iowa campaign staffs.  Bachmann has neither.

Bachmann’s staff consists of only four field staffers.  They instead rely on Tele-Townhalls to identify supporters and offer them tickets to the straw poll. On a recent Bachmann call, I indicated that I would vote for her at the Iowa straw poll.  The next day I got an automated call from Bachmann saying that my tickets are in the mail.  The day after that, someone actually called me to confirm and ask if I could use more tickets.

The problem for Bachmann is that the process is too impersonal.  Politics is all about relationships, and many times people don’t want to let a candidate or even their field staffer down.  When the process is automated, you are not letting anyone down if you choose not go.  What’s the worst thing that could happen, another automated message?

Mega-churches, like the ones Bachmann has been visiting in Iowa lately, rely on small groups to create accountability.  It’s easy to skip church when you don’t think anyone will notice you’re not there.  Bachmann’s campaign lacks the accountability factor that personal relationships bring to campaigns.

Bachmann is going to put on quite a show in Ames.  She is making it worth people’s time to spend a day there supporting her.  Yet, it almost seems like she is relying on big name entertainment to get people to go to Ames instead of selling herself as the candidate best positioned to champion the conservative message.

Bachmann has excitement, but she doesn’t have the apparatus necessary to mobilize the numbers of people that Bush, Forbes, and Romney have done in previous straw polls.  For that reason, I think she will fail to meet her high expectations on Saturday.

Third Place: Tim Pawlenty

Needs: Bachmann to stumble
Expectations: Moderate
Prediction: 2500 votes

You have to remember that the straw poll is an organizational test, and Pawlenty has a team that knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.  The word out of the Pawlenty camp is that they are feeling good about things, but they still insist any finish better than the two percent he received in the Des Moines Register poll would be a victory.  Hogwash.

Pawlenty needs a first or second place finish, otherwise his campaign is in trouble.  If he can’t beat Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul how can he be expected to beat Mitt Romney or President Obama?  If Pawlenty can’t score a victory in Ames he’s going to struggle raising the money to keep the lights on in his Iowa campaign office.

After aggressively campaigning across Iowa, Pawlenty has honed his message and does a good job on the stump.  He does his best when focusing on the economy, but he seems to struggle at motivating Iowans to support his campaign.  June’s TIR poll showed that people liked him, he just wasn’t their top choice.

Ron Paul fires up his supporters on a number of issues.  Michele Bachmann gets her people fired up on repealing Obamacare and the nation’s debt problems.  Santorum speaks the language that strong social conservatives look for.  Pawlenty doesn’t have a base when it comes to an issue.  Instead, he appeals to those seeking a candidate who looks and sounds like you would expect a legitimate candidate to look and sound.  That might work in a general election, but it will cause him to struggle in a caucus or straw poll contest.

Fourth Place: Rick Santorum

Needs: An Impressive Debate Performance
Expectations: Low
Prediction: 2000 votes

Santorum’s decision to move to Iowa for three weeks was a wise one.  He’s been everywhere and done everything.  At an event last weekend, he claimed to have held events in over 62 counties, an impressive feat for a candidate who is cash strapped.

The only thing that I can’t figure out is if Santorum is more like Tommy Thompson or Sam Brownback from four years ago.  If he can post Brownback-type numbers, I think he might be the story coming out of the event.  If he disappoints, his campaign is probably over like it was for Tommy Thompson.

The one thing he has going for him is that he is motivating people on a particular set of issues and principles.  Santorum is the natural home for social conservatives.  If they give him a chance next Saturday, he may finally get his time in the spotlight.

Fifth Place: Herman Cain

Needs: A time machine to transport him back to May
Expectations: Moderate
Prediction: Under 1000 votes

Cain thinks he can finish in the top three, but I just don’t see any way that is possible.  Had Cain campaigned hard in Iowa over the past couple of months, he could have easily finished in the top three.  For more on Cain’s fade in Iowa, click here.

Sixth Place: Mitt Romney

Needs: Ames to be irrelevant
Expectations: None
Prediction: 500 votes

According to the polls, there are plenty of people in Iowa who still support Mitt Romney.  What’s odd is that nobody ever bumps into them.  Still, Romney will probably have some supporters from central Iowa go and pull the lever for him.  If Romney breaks into the top five, he would have to be very happy.

Seventh Place: Newt Gingrich

Needs: A Mulligan
Expectations: None
Prediction: A few hundred diehard supporters show up and vote for him.

The caucus process is a perfect match for Gingrich’s style of politics.  Even though traditional media has basically written him off, Iowa Republicans still respect the former speaker.  Had he focused his energies on Iowa, Ames could have been his shining moment.

Eighth Place: Thad McCotter

Needs: To be allowed into the debate
Expectations: None
Prediction: 22 votes

If he is not allowed in Thursday’s debate, McCotter is not going to be able to introduce himself to Iowa Republicans before they cast votes in Ames.  It is unlikely that McCotter will have much of a presence on the grounds, but what he paid for is access to the stage inside Hilton Coliseum.

Ninth Place: Jon Huntsman

Needs: Somebody to recognize him
Expectations: None
Prediction: Ten votes

The only reason I think Huntsman can get ten votes is because I saw a car with a Huntsman bumper sticker a while back.  I have proof.  I took a picture of it.  Cory Crowley, a former aide to Senator Grassley, is also backing Huntsman.  So we know he’s not going to get shut out.

Write Ins:  It’s hard enough to get people to go to the straw poll, let alone get there to support candidates who are not officially on the ballot.  Will Perry and Palin both get some write in vote?  Sure, but its going to be an insignificant number.

Enhanced by ZemantaCandidate photos Dave Davidson, Prezography.com

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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