Ames, Iowa—When the final results of the Iowa “straw poll” were finally announced early Saturday evening, there really was little to be surprised about. Michele Bachmann, her candidacy fueled by the ranks of the “tea party movement” and cultural conservatives, emerged on top in the Hawkeye State’s quadrennial “beauty contest.” The Minnesotan congresswoman won with 4823 votes (29%), followed closely by Ron Paul with 4671 votes (28%) and Tim Pawlenty with 2293 (14%).
The only major surprise was the strong third place showing of Pawlenty—an obvious political lifeline to the former Minnesota governor’s flagging candidacy—and the write-in votes cast for the latest entry into the GOP field, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In rolling up 718 write-in votes, Perry (who had just announced his candidacy in South Carolina earlier on Saturday) outpolled Mitt Romney (385), Newt Gingrich (69), and Jon Huntsman (35). (Romney, Gingrich, and Huntsman did not participate in the Iowa straw vote).
Pawlenty clearly got the political propulsion he desperately needed from Iowa to keep going in the race. With key operatives (California political consultant Bob Schuman and New York GOP operative Jeff LaCourse) from his political action committee on hand in Ames, Perry signaled he means business and is sure to compete in the Iowa caucuses next February.
Behind Michele’s Big Day
The triumph of Bachmann and second-place showing for Paul immediately raised the question among many GOP activists in the Iowa State Coliseum as to how far the two —arguably long-shot candidates and the two most controversial of the Republican presidential field—will go as the nomination fight continues.
There was little argument Bachmann’s mighty showing in Ames was in part due to many of the same pro-life, pro-marriage, activists who helped Mike Huckabee place second in the ’07 straw poll (and win the Iowa caucuses the following year). Wes Enos, who help direct Huckabee’s Iowa effort four years ago, was the top Iowa field operative for Bachmann this year.
Indeed, Bachmann’s showing was all the more impressive in that she was strongly competed with for the hearts of pro-lifers and other cultural conservatives by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and fifth-pace finisher Cain.
“I went for Michele—she’s my gal!” exclaimed Alyce Burnett, suburban Des Moines (Johnston) housewife. Four years ago, Burnett and heer husband were strong Huckabee backers. Now, she explained, they were both for Bachmann because “we like what she stands for. She’s rock-solid on moral issues such as the right to life and traditional marriage.
Bachmann’s fervent backing was evident in the were evident all day in the long lines waiting to go to her tent outside the Hilton Coliseum Center here for refreshments and souvenirs.
Paul’s Still Controversial
Both Bachmann’s win and Paul’s second-place showing clearly surprised and worried some of those we talked to in Ames.
“If Ron Paul wins, the Iowa straw poll won’t be taken seriously in the future—it’ll be a joke,” Minnesota State Rep. Mary Franson told HUMAN EVENTS shortly after the polls in Ames closed. Franson, who could not vote in the contest as a non-resident of Iowa but was at the straw vote with the Minnesota-based Voice for Conservative Women group, said that the Texas congressman’s strong message of bringing US troops home from around the world “makes me fear for our country.”
Kim Schmett, former Polk County GOP Chairman, disagreed. As he told us after the polls closed, “You can’t judge the impact of the straw poll until we know who the nominee is. Ron Paul will contribute significantly by making the issue of smaller government more important in the debate. Michele Bachmann will clearly advance cultural issues and the ‘tea party cause, which is also a smaller government agenda. Whatever they do in the race. both will help direct the issues the candidates will be discussing this year.” (Both Franson and Schmett are neutral in the ’12 contest).
Schmett noted that Pat Robertson came in second in the Iowa straw poll of 1987 and Pat Buchanan was a very close second behind Bob Dole and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (who were tied) in the ’95 straw poll. While ultimately unsuccessful in winning the nomination, both helped Robertson and Buchanan helped drive the debate in the years they scored well in Iowa.
So the big winners of the 2011 Iowa straw vote, it seems, are the advocates of pro-family issues and smaller government. As to how far those who championed those causes in Ames and came out on top go in the nomination fight next year will be one of the most intriguing political stories of 2012—and one clearly worth reporting on.