Ames, IA: The center of the political universe (for a day)

In six days, the Iowa Straw Poll will be held at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.  The pundits and prognosticators have been making predictions on how the candidates will place.  One important fact to remember is that event is a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party.    The participating candidates have paid a minimum of $15,000 for tent to meet and greet, feed, and entertain their supporters, most of which have been given the $30 ticket to vote by the campaign.  The participation fee also guarantees a speaking role in Hilton Coliseum. 

This year, things got a bit convoluted.  As in 2007, there were declared candidates who chose not to pay to play, but whose names were put on the ballot.  One undeclared, but anticipated candidate, Fred Thompson was also on the ballot.   Mitt Romney spent some $2Million to transport, ticket, feed, and adorn with campaign gear his supporters and came in first in the balloting, only to be overshadowed by the second place out of the blue finish by Gov. Mike Huckabee, now Fox News superstar. 

But back to this year:  Mitt Romney chose not to participate—at all.  In fact, when he comes to Iowa for the Iowa GOP /Fox News debate, it will be only his second visit to Iowa this campaign season, after practically becoming a resident of the state four years ago.   Newt Gingrich, running on empty in funding, also chose not to participate.  Rick Perry, the coy but engaging Governor of Texas still has not decided what he will do, but there are 527 groups who are advocating for his candidacy who will set up shop in the Holiday Inn Express, some four blocks from the main event.

Despite not paying to be a part of the Straw Poll, Romney, and Gingrich will all be listed on the ballot.  For the first time ever, a write-in provision is being offered. 

So on Saturday, an estimated 15,000-20,000 political activists and media will converge on the beautiful campus of Iowa State University for a day of speeches, music, free t-shirts, entertainment and those who are actual residents of the state of Iowa will cast a vote for their preferred candidate.  While this is by no means a binding election, it is significant because those candidates who do not garner a respectable showing in this poll, will most likely rethink their candidacy and may just pack up and go home.  Names of some of the more notable people who have fallen into that category are Elizabeth Dole, Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback, Fred Thompson, and Dan Quayle to mention a few. 

So what is the function of the Iowa Straw Poll?  My friend, Bob Haus, one of the most politically astute people I know wrote about it today comparing it to the NFL Combine:

Yet, I have also heard it referred to aptly as the first bite of the apple.  Iowa has the unique role of not only having the first official vote—by the caucus—the second bite of the apple to determine the party nominee, but by the Ames Straw Poll also gets to have a say in winnowing out the field.      Two bites, get it?

It will be an interesting day for sure in Ames.  Will Ron Paul’s campaign finally show some real organizational strength?  Can Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann meet or exceed expectations?  What will the absence of Mitt Romney have on the voting and will a write-in effort on behalf of Rick Perry bear fruit?  Will Rick Santorum* be able to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012?

NBC’s Meet the Press will be live from Ames next weekend along with Fox News Channel’s Huckabee both  no doubt both interviewing as many of the candidates as possible. 

I am not going to make any predictions—except for this:  In what may be the last year for the Iowa Straw Poll as too many other states are complaining about Iowa’s influence in the presidential selection process, I believe that conventional wisdom may not be the hallmark of the day.  Stay tuned, but more importantly, if you live in Iowa, sign up to go.  The campaigns all have tickets and transportation available.    Be a part of history!

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of the Campaign Steering Committee for Sen. Rick Santorum and will be supporting him with my vote in Ames.


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One response to “Ames, IA: The center of the political universe (for a day)

  1. Four years ago, Giuliani tried to prove how unimportant we are by ‘not running in Iowa’ (as his legions of college students pumped out thousands of lobbying calls from a campaign office right next door to the campaign office of Hillary Clinton). Only time will tell whether Romney follows the same career prospects at first and subsequently, or whether his chronic planning will produce a higher yield for him this time around. Local Massachusetts folks who know Romney from up close are happy to give a glimpse of Romney at I predict the straw poll will winnow the weakest, and do the same in four more years.

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