Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Election 2012: Bachmann Scores Big at Ames Political Carnival
Two carnivals were taking place simultaneously in the heart of Iowa this past Saturday.
The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines was celebrating the centennial of its buttermilk cow and hawking such delicacies as fried Oreo cookies, fried butter and the ever popular (and delicious) porkchop on a stick.
Just up the road on the grounds of Iowa State University in Ames a political carnival was held. Both had cover charges ($10 to enter the state fair, $35 to vote in the Ames straw poll) and both had interesting dining selections (though no porkchop on a stick was to be found, the grub was free in Ames so long as you didn’t mind waiting in long lines). Congressman Ron Paul even provided a ride of sorts (a large inflatable “Dollar Slide”).
Below is a breakdown of how the candidates fared and in keeping with the carnival atmosphere, what each served up to prospective voters.
US Representative Michele Bachmann R-MN/IA Clearly the big winner. The TEA Party favorite nosed out Paul to receive the most votes and received the big headlines for her triumph. Though victory in the straw poll is not necessarily a sign that a candidate will win the caucuses a few months later or the nomination, Bachmann had something going for her that the 2007 victor, ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, never had: enthusiasm. Short of a major meltdown, Bachmann, who you’d never know represents a district in another state by her constant references to her Iowan background, is a heavy favorite to win the nation’s first delegate contest. Bachmann served up “meat sundaes”, lemonade, ice cream and country music star Randy Travis.
US Representative Ron Paul R-TX I know I lowballed Paul’s likely finish in the primer I penned though that was not out of disrespect for the feisty congressman nor his supporters (though it’s all too easy to harbor contempt for some of them when they are disruptive at conferences). Paul came in a distant fifth four years ago when his operation consisted of a largely empty tent and a horde of rambunctious out of state devotees.
The Paulista Ames 2.0 effort was a very different operation. Gone were the tinfoil tricorner hats and tatted up college students with the expanded earlobe rings; they were replaced by young men and women wearing suits in August (one Paul handler even sported a straw boater!) managing a multifaceted operation that was so organized that even the tent that dished out hot dogs had a professionally made banner advertising it. Five years of continual spreading revolution and launching full-scale straw poll assaults paid sizable dividends in Ames. Also of note were the supporters- instead of being heavy with college students, a large portion of those present for Paul included families (including one that had home-manufactured dresses out of Paul t-shirts) and older war veterans. You couldn’t discern the difference between them and say Romney supporters.
The Paul movement has broken beyond the kooks and the quad and almost pulled off an upset in a contest where the old trick of participants voting multiple registrations was blocked.
At a minimum, Paul won’t suffer the indignity of being shut out of debates as was the case in 2008 when FoxNews judged the quickly sinking Fred Thompson candidacy more viable than the well-financed Paul outfit. Aside from the aforementioned “money slide” and hot dogs, the Paul camp offered jugglers and Barry Goldwater, Jr.
Tim Pawlenty In what turned out to be a BBQ-laden Irish wake, the former Minnesota governor put all of his chips on Ames and crapped out. With Texas governor Rick Perry barging on to the scene that very day, Pawlenty made a big gamble. I’ll perform an autopsy later but the Famous Dave’s BBQ and Dairy Queen Blizzards were a hit.
Rick Santorum The former Pennsylvania US Senator- I find myself prefixing the word “former” a lot when referring to the 2012 GOP presidential field- claimed to supporters that his turnout went beyond expectations (which leads me to wonder if he expected to finish 7th or 8th). Considering his shoestring budget fourth place is respectable, but also bear in mind that “he whose named should not be googled” used buses to bring in people and has invested heavily in Iowa. With Pawlenty out, Santorum might be waiting for a Bachmann and/or Perry collapse to give him a sliver of a chance of breaking out the poll dungeon. Santorum had a country band and third of a pound hamburgers that proved worth standing in a long line to score.
Herman Cain The form…one-time Godfather’s Pizza executive had a modest set-up, a small tent with a stage that looked like the musician section of a hardscrabble Baptist church. The tent was SRO when the Herminator spoke and despite his not infrequent gaffes commands the hearts of many Republican activists but a smaller number of straw pollers. Cain kept the brand alive with his minimal investment and remains a part of the conversation. Naturally Godfather’s Pizza was served.
Rick Perry Banished from having an official presence for refusing to cut the Iowa GOP a check, the Americans for Perry borrowed a tent from another group and used it as the screening point for the Texas governor’s candidacy announcement. His people, Babs Janssen, Greg Marmalarde and their clones were clad in UT orange and Aggie maroon and white t-shirts. Beyond passing out flyers for Perry’s declaration of entry, the Holiday Inn-based squad slipped Aggie maroon pencils around asking Iowans to write the governor’s name in. More than a few did. Mission accomplished without great expense.
Mitt Romney To go from first to seventh shows the power of money. Last time Romney spent it and won; this time he didn’t and fell like a stone. The only time I saw Romney represented was on handmade posters carried by one-man armies decrying him as a RINO. One has to wonder if Romney is thinking about skipping Iowa altogether to avoid the ignominy of finishing second to yet another evangelical favorite and plant his flag in more favorable New Hampshire instead. It was about the only thing that worked out for McCain in 2008.
Newt Gingrich Worked the Iowa State Fair one day and then worked the straw poll area and didn’t trail Romney by too many votes. Newt will likely stay in the race until New Hampshire no matter how poorly the polls, straw, cooked and otherwise, portend. The historian in him won’t let him get out until then.
Jon Huntsman Invested in the Republican Leadership Conference’s straw poll in New Orleans and finished a “surprising” second place. But Iowa runs its polls different from Louisiana and the billionaire decided to take a pass. His campaign is reportedly in a tailspin after failing to get the jolt that Bachmann and Perry received being fellow late entires. Is he waiting on the Nevada caucuses to get started?
Thaddeus McCotter Last but certainly not least was the witty congressman from Michigan. He splurged a ton on location but not so much on vittles- two rough-looking ice cream trucks distributing bomb-pops. No more than a dozen or so people were in his area at any given time. McCotter didn’t do much speechifying (or as he put it “vent his spleen”) being content to strumming his guitar with the band he brought along. In New Orleans this writer consisted of half of his support; had I been able to vote in Ames, I would have consisted of just less than 3%. I guess I’m just ahead of the curve- the congressman’s words, not mine.
Sarah Palin Decided to make a surprise trip to Des Moines to visit the state fair the day before the straw poll. Unlike the declared candidates, Palin did not make a speech on the local newspaper’s “hay”box. The former Alaska governor was dressed casually and simply walked around the food booths while cheerfully accommodating the admiring throng’s picture and autograph numerous requests. Palin was not on the straw poll ballot though there were individuals present at the straw poll promoting her undeclared candidacy on home-made poster board signs. A Palin candidacy looks unlikely as there appears no great groundswell of support nor has she shown much interest in trading personal freedom and financially lucrative endeavors with unpaid campaigning and putting her children through another cavity search.