Texans in Iowa: Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Ames

Two Texans, Ron Paul and Rick Perry, have the potential to grab all the headlines this weekend as the campaign for the GOP’s presidential nomination begins in earnest.

In Iowa, Ron Paul’s fervent supporters can show up in Ames this Saturday and help Paul win the Straw Poll, which would re-write much of the narrative that is being written that assumes Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who must be considered the heavy favorite going in despite questions about the strength of her ground game, will convincingly and decisively win the Straw Poll.

This anecdote about Paul from the influential Iowa Republican Craig Robinson caught my eye.

Robinson wrote about an innovative call he received from a Paul supporter:

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.”

With a SuperPAC formed to help his campaign and a more savvy and organized network, Paul has a chance to rock the establishment yet again this weekend. And while those like George Will may dismiss a potential Paul victory by writing that Paul is the “Babe Ruth of Straw Polls,” the hoopla surrounding the Straw Poll will make it impossible to diminish any storyline that has Paul finishing in the top two. Further, Paul’s staunchly pro-life record will only endear him to Iowans who care deeply about this issue.

The stakes are higher for Bachmann or Pawlenty. Paul, by finishing ahead of either Bachmann or Pawlenty, or both, could deliver a fatal wound to either or both of their campaigns, especially with the imminent entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the presidential contest.

According to numerous reports, Perry will make an announcement that he seeks to throw his hat into the presidential contest this weekend at the influential gathering of conservative activists at the RedState Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

Perry, as first reported in the Union-Leader, will also be in New Hampshire on Saturday.

While the Day of Prayer may have given Iowans the red meat they needed, Perry’s strategy of stomping on Ames may present risks if winning Iowa factors into Perry’s calculus for securing the GOP nomination.

On the influential site, The Iowa Republican, Robinson writes that “Perry is acting as if he is the 800-pound gorilla that is about to enter the race, but he’s not:”

The move makes it obvious that Governor Perry either doesn’t understand the Iowa caucuses or doesn’t respect the role that Iowa plays in the nominating process.  We shouldn’t be surprised.  The candidate he endorsed for president in 2008, Rudy Giuliani, never could figure out Iowa either. …

He has a great resume and looks the part, but the TIR poll conducted in late June showed him at only eight percent in Iowa.  Perry’s decision to forgo competing in the Fox News debate and the straw poll is also a sign of weakness, not one of strength and conviction. …

To win the caucuses and ultimately win the Republican nomination, Perry needs Iowa.  Perry has found a way make Iowa more difficult than it needs to be.  Ironically, Perry has done a better job of insulting Iowa Republicans than Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have done by just avoided the state.

The road map to the nomination for Perry is very simple.  If he wins Iowa and South Carolina, he’s probably the nominee.  His decision to announce his candidacy in a manner that attempts to pull some of the spotlight away from Ames and the Iowa caucuses will not sit well with Iowa activists.

This sentiment was shared among many GOP activists in Iowa. In a more interconnected world though, Perry will hold considerable sway among rank and file voters, especially after his well-received prayer event at Reliant Stadium this weekend that was broadcast across churches in Iowa.

Another thing to note.

Perry, with his association with the 10th Amendment, seems to fit in more with South Carolina’s anti-establishment ethos than Iowa’s more pro-life, evangelical ethos. In other words, Perry would have to do less work in winning over South Carolinians than he would Iowans.

So Perry’s impending announcement this weekend in RedState can only mean that Perry’s team is doubling down on South Carolina and placing an importance on the first-in-the-South primary that has chosen every Republican nominee since 1980.

To get to South Carolina, though, Perry must perform well in Iowa, which is probable but in no way assured.