All Eyes on Ames
by Jen Green
It’s straw poll week and all eyes are on Iowa. Media inside the state (like me) are trying to figure out what our fellow Iowans are gonna do on Saturday. This field of candidates has no clear frontrunner so it’s not an easy call–and I live here.
First, the globegazette.com talked with Iowa “evangelical leaders” about the direction of the “powerful voting bloc” of social conservative evangelical voters. Steve Scheffler, president of Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition says he can’t predict this year and the situation is continually fluid due to the expected announcement of Rick Perry and the potential announcement from Sarah Palin.
Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader says Saturday is a a showdown between the two Minnesotans Bachmann and Pawlenty, with Ron Paul thrown in the middle. He also says that Rick Santorum is gaining some steam and could end up really surprising people (if you have a chance to listen to our “Road to Ames” podcast, you’ll hear Steve and I discuss that possibility also).
The paper also quotes Doug Gross (most definitely not an evangelical leader) essentially saying that what happened to Huckabee in 2007-8 was really lightening in a bottle and it’s been very difficult for any of these candidates to recreate it. And yeah, you might never see me write this again, but I agree with him.
That’s what Iowans are saying. It’s a crap shoot, essentially. So, it’s really interesting to read what media from outside the state are predicting. Former education secretary Bill Bennett writes this for CNN: “The Ames straw poll is not a very good predictor of who the ultimate nominee will be . . . But it does have a tendency to fuel and give life to campaigns, and it has a second tendency to tell other candidates whether this year is worth their continued efforts or not.” That’s a lot nicer than being called “part circus, part politics” like the Associated Press did to us.
Bennett’s analysis of the importance of the debate tonight is a good one, I only disagree with him in one area. He says Pawlenty needs to make up for his wimp-out against Romney in the last debate–I totally agree. He says Santorum needs another strong showing–again, I agree. But he says Bachmann just needs to hold her own and not screw up. I think this oversells her current standing with Iowans. Yes, she is the frontrunner in the state, but I think that status is tenuous enough that an average showing at the debate could keep people from heading to Ames to vote for her.
No, I think the congresswoman’s performance is very, very important–this is the last national showing before the addition of Perry to the field. She must show herself to be a fighter. If she does, it will help her win the straw poll and will shore up her support as she goes against Perry.
Bennett surmises that after the debate and the straw poll, the field will be winnowed from 10 (including Perry and Palin) to five in short order. I think five may be a bit small, but I’ll say seven for sure. We’ll see.