Straw poll victory, but Bachmann faces tough road ahead, pundits say

Rep. Michele Bachmann. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

The tents have been taken down, the red, white and blue technicolor buses have pulled out of Ames and candidates have left either victorious or licking proverbial wounds.

In the wake of the Ames Straw Poll — where U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty took the top three spots, respectively — the new question is “What does a Bachmann Straw Poll victory in Iowa mean for the caucuses?”

Bachmann became the first woman to win the Ames Straw Poll in the contest’s history Saturday, receiving 4,823 votes, propelled by social and Christian conservatives who appreciate her strong anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stances, but also fiscal Republicans who agree with her decision to not raise the debt ceiling.

The Congresswoman, founder of the Congress tea party caucus, was more than warmly received by the estimated 17,000 attendees — the second highest turnout for the Straw Poll ever. During remarks, Bachmann had supporters — even those wearing t-shirts for other candidates — on their feet with thunderous applause and joining her in her now-prevalent “One. Term. President” chant about President Barack Obama.

Bachmann heavily emphasized her Iowa roots Saturday, adding it’s time we had an Iowan in the White House.” The comment was one of many where the Congresswoman touted her home life in Iowa during her Saturday remarks. She spoke little, if at all, of her life or political record in Minnesota, where she has served as a U.S. Representative since 2006. Though born and raised in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, Bachmann moved to Minnesota following her parents’ divorce when she was a girl of 13.

While charismatic and much-supported for her adamant social conservative views, Bachmann’s Straw Poll victory may be short-lived on a national level, political analysts say, largely due to the close second place finish Paul secured, and also to the entrance of 2012 candidate who was noticeably absent Saturday — the much-rumored Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who made his White House bid from South Carlina during the straw poll.

“This is now a wide-open race,” Dr. Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said. “The Iowa Caucuses will be very tight and exciting. Ron Paul will take away lots of votes from Michele, but he probably won’t get the nomination. In fact, Rick Perry, tea party-like in his policy positions, has a better chance than either of them.”

Perry shakes things up, pundits have said. Though he hadn’t campaigned in the Hawkeye State for a single day before the Straw Poll and was not on the poll ballot, he scored 718 write-in votes, placing above national frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Romney won the 2007 Straw Poll. This time around, he had a less-than-stellar showing, with 567 votes. Still, he could be the one to beat, analysts say, and Perry isn’t far behind to keep Romney on his toes.

Schmidt said Perry and Romney, though placing sixth and seventh “are the ‘big boys’ in this contest by anyone’s measure, and they did not play in Iowa so far.”

Gov. Mike Huckabee said Saturday that Perry’s campaign could take a blow because of his choice to announce his candidacy during the Straw Poll was snub to Iowa.

Though Perry will be “a very strong candidate,” Huckabee said, the announcement was overshadowed by the festivities in Ames.

“I just think the fact he’s going be announcing in another state other than Iowa, on a day that the Iowans have put so much focus and time [in], and making this the biggest day of the summer politically — he’s upsetting some people here,” Huckabee said Saturday. “Whoever wins here is the big story, and he’s part of the story, but not the whole story.”

Dr. Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, agreed the timing may be a small detriment to Perry, but the Texan’s appearance in Waterloo at a Black Hawk County GOP event the day after helped rebound.

“Perry could have gotten more headlines had he waited until [Sunday],” Hagle said, but added, “to some extent, I see Perry’s visit as a way to try to smooth over any hurt feelings. I also see his attending the Waterloo event as a signal that he’s willing to come to Iowa and do the work necessary to run a strong campaign for the caucuses.”

And Romney beware, Hagle speculated.

“As for Mitt, I wouldn’t quite say he’s toast, but I don’t see him winning the caucuses,” he said. “He has supporters and name recognition, but even aside from Perry beating him on a write-in vote, Romney has to be concerned that he only got about an eighth of the votes at this Straw Poll that he received in 2007.”

So what of Bachmann?

“I agree [the win] will keep her fundraising up,” Schmidt said. “She has bragging rights, and it keeps her flame very bright and hot. But all she did was hold on to a tenuous first place in rapidly changing and dangerous environment.”

Hagle did not necessarily disagree, but pointed out Bachmann’s social stances play well among some conservatives who want a candidate that will represent their values, not just promote fiscal issues.

“Although I would argue that social conservatives do not dominate Iowa politics the way some national media outlets seem to suggest, they are clearly more important to the political conversation here than, for example, in New Hampshire,” Hagle said. “Thus, even though economic and fiscal issues will likely dominate the 2012 election cycle, social conservatives will still want to be sure that the person they support is at least acceptable — if not perfect — on the issues they care about.”

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