Just Wondering, That’s All

Here is how a Serious, Highly Respected Political Commentator reported yesterday’s results of the Iowa straw poll (the bolds on candidates’ names are in the original; the bold ital immediately below is mine):

Bachmann took 4,823 votes, narrowly escaping a major upset at the hand of Texas Rep. Ron Paul who won 4,671 votes. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty placed third with 2,293, a showing that is likely to raise questions about his ability to continue in the contest.

The order of finish beyond the top three: former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (1,567), businessman Herman Cain (1,456), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (718), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (567), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (385), former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (69) and Rep. Thad McCotter (Mich.) (35).

Here is how the same commentator analyzes these results (emphasis is mine):

Perry, Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman did not actively campaign in Ames. Nearly 17,000 vote were cast, the second-largest turnout in the history of the Straw Poll.

For Bachmann, the victory solidifies her as the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses which are set to kick off the presidential balloting process in early February 2012.

Bachmann entered the poll as the favorite, as polling suggested that her popularity was surging in the state and Romney chose not to participate in an event he won in 2007.

Taking no chances, Bachmann saturated Iowa with television ads in the run-up to the Straw Poll and barnstormed across the state in the final days before the vote. (On Friday, she did five events, including an evening rally in which she threw cornballs into the crowd and jitterbugged with her husband, Marcus, onstage.)

On site at Ames, her operation had the whiff of disorganization in its early hours as people formed long lines to get into her tent — where country singer Randy Travis was performing.

But the sheer numbers of Bachmann supporters became apparent as the day wore on. Lines and crowds stayed constant around her tent while the crowds ebbed away from Pawlenty’s site.

It was not immediately clear how Pawlenty would handle his disappointing third-place finish. He and his campaign team had done everything they could in advance of the Straw Poll to lower expectations. But the former Minnesota governor needed a spark in Iowa — and nationally — that he had hoped the Straw Poll would provide. Finishing behind Bachmann and Paul will make raising money a near-impossibility.

Pawlenty’s path will be further complicated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race on Saturday. Polling suggests [Perry] enters the contest in second place behind Romney nationally.

Perry is scheduled to visit Waterloo on Sunday — his first stop in Iowa as a presidential candidate. Bachmann, too, will be in Waterloo, the town where she was born, on Sunday in what amounts to a victory lap.

With Romney not expected to campaign aggressively in Iowa over the coming six months, Bachmann’s win in Ames strengthens her hand considerably. Perry appears to be the most serious threat to her supremacy in the state, but the Bachmann team now has the benefit of a dry run in the state before the Feb. 6 caucuses.

Bachmann only “narrowly escapes a major upset at the hand” of Ron Paul, and it’s Rick Perry who has “further complicated” her “path”? I see Paul’s name mentioned once in the above analysis, and only parenthetically. Am I counting wrong? Did I miss any others?

Here is how a political blogger with a well-earned reputation for writing in such a way that nobody can tell what his personal opinions are describes the results (emphasis is mine):

Pawlenty had been one of those candidates who was highly touted by some pundits as someone with potential but once on the national stage fizzled.

Some pundits are now suggesting the same could happen with Texas Gov. Rick Perry — but they shouldn’t be on it [sic]: Perry has the swagger and self-assure [sic] plus the willingness to genuinely appeal to the Republican party’s far right that Pawlenty didn’t have.

With Pawlenty you couldn’t watch him and not think that he was mentally holding his nose as he campaigned; Perry has gusto.

Look. I’m not a Beltway insider or a Serious Political Commentator. Lord knows that no one could possibly read anything that I write and not know what my opinion is.No, I’m highly opinionated and am, to put it in the most tactful terms possible, amused by the currently fashionable notion that every point of view must be “balanced” with the opposite point of view.

So take what I’m about to say with the appropriately healthy dose of skepticism.

BUT…. Why is it that when Ron Paul comes in second to Michele Bachmann in the Iowa straw poll, and in fact comes in second to Michele Bachmann by only a hair (as Chris Cillizza acknowledged in the third paragraph of his piece), it’s the candidate who came in fifth — behind HERMAN CAIN, for pete’s sake — who is clearly now the one to watch?

Let me be clear. I think it’s highly unlikely, to understate the point, that Ron Paul would ever be nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for POTUS. But the Iowa straw poll is not supposed to be about who the Establishment Ruling Class in the GOP prefers as their presidential candidate. The Iowa straw poll, to be fair, is really mostly about which candidate has the best organizational prowess, since they’re basically bribing people to “vote” for them. But to the extent that it’s about anything beyond that, it IS about what ordinary, everyday, local potential voters in the electorally important state of Iowa think and feel about the issues and the available candidates.

I, for one, would actually like to know why Iowa Republicans are so drawn to Ron Paul that they very nearly gave him first place in the straw poll. I think it’s important to ask such questions and to attempt, at least, to answer them.

Based on what I have read so far, only one commentator has made a serious effort to do this. I can’t say I’m surprised that the commentator is Nate Silver. Silver uses a predictive formula he created to assess the chances of each candidate, given the straw poll results and other factors, in the race to come. Here is an extended quote:

Representative Michele Bachmann, having narrowly won the straw poll, has to be considered the favorite to win Iowa next year. The caution is that the straw poll victory comes on the heels of what hadn’t been a great month for Mrs. Bachmann. Her campaign was clumsy in batting down a variety of low-level controversies, and her standing in national polls eroded some. More important is the question of how well an Iowa win might translate into other states; it doesn’t help Mrs. Bachmann that unfavorable views of the Tea Party are increasing after the debt ceiling controversy, even among some Republican voters. But she has cleared her first hurdle with aplomb.

Representative Ron Paul came quite close to beating Mrs. Bachmann, but faces a different sort of problem. I don’t doubt that Mr. Paul could secure 15 or 20 or perhaps 25 percent of the vote in Iowa. (He got 10 percent there in 2008.) But I wonder how much upside his candidacy has beyond his very dedicated core set of supporters. The lowest-ever winning total in Iowa is 26 percent, by Bob Dole in 1988.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who announced his candidacy today in South Carolina, ranks third according to the formula, which likes the fact that he won quite a few write-in votes despite not having visited Ames. Southern candidates historically have a good track record in the Iowa caucuses, which often turns out as high a percentage of evangelical voters as many southern primaries.

If Mr. Perry were to dedicate himself to Iowa, he’d have a considerable chance of winning — probably better than Mr. Paul, although not necessarily Mrs. Bachmann. The risk is that there’s no real substitute in Iowa for having had your boots on the ground, so this is the one state where his late start could be a problem. Mr. Perry’s best early states should be South Carolina and perhaps Florida. Is the best way to ensure that you’re in reasonably good shape heading into those states simply to do as well as possible in Iowa? Or, instead, to convince the media that a solid second- or third-place performance still qualifies as a “good” finish? I’d lean toward the former strategy, particularly given that if you don’t win Iowa, someone else will, and will get the momentum associated with it. But it’s a tough call.

Representative Michele Bachmann, having narrowly won the straw poll, has to be considered the favorite to win Iowa next year. The caution is that the straw poll victory comes on the heels of what hadn’t been a great month for Mrs. Bachmann. Her campaign was clumsy in batting down a variety of low-level controversies, and her standing in national polls eroded some. More important is the question of how well an Iowa win might translate into other states; it doesn’t help Mrs. Bachmann that unfavorable views of the Tea Party are increasing after the debt ceiling controversy, even among some Republican voters. But she has cleared her first hurdle with aplomb.

Representative Ron Paul came quite close to beating Mrs. Bachmann, but faces a different sort of problem. I don’t doubt that Mr. Paul could secure 15 or 20 or perhaps 25 percent of the vote in Iowa. (He got 10 percent there in 2008.) But I wonder how much upside his candidacy has beyond his very dedicated core set of supporters. The lowest-ever winning total in Iowa is 26 percent, by Bob Dole in 1988.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who announced his candidacy today in South Carolina, ranks third according to the formula, which likes the fact that he won quite a few write-in votes despite not having visited Ames. Southern candidates historically have a good track record in the Iowa caucuses, which often turns out as high a percentage of evangelical voters as many southern primaries.

If Mr. Perry were to dedicate himself to Iowa, he’d have a considerable chance of winning — probably better than Mr. Paul, although not necessarily Mrs. Bachmann. The risk is that there’s no real substitute in Iowa for having had your boots on the ground, so this is the one state where his late start could be a problem. Mr. Perry’s best early states should be South Carolina and perhaps Florida. Is the best way to ensure that you’re in reasonably good shape heading into those states simply to do as well as possible in Iowa? Or, instead, to convince the media that a solid second- or third-place performance still qualifies as a “good” finish? I’d lean toward the former strategy, particularly given that if you don’t win Iowa, someone else will, and will get the momentum associated with it. But it’s a tough call.

Obviously, winning the Iowa straw poll does not assure Bachmann the nomination — and just as obviously, Ron Paul’s close second does not mean he will be a winner nationally. But goodness gracious, it sure is nice that someone actually is interested enough — and professional enough — to include the second-place winner in his analysis of the straw poll results, and not ignore him in the interests of not threatening the worshipful narrative the media has built up around Rick Perry, the swaggering and self-assured Texan who’s gonna blow Barack Obama out of the water.

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