Stories Behind the Straw Poll
by Jen Green
“There is no perfect candidate.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that line in the last six months, I’d take my husband out for really nice meal at our favorite restaurant. It’s true—there is no perfect candidate, never has been, never will be. But the purpose of this primary/caucus season is to find the best candidate. What we mean by “best” though, as Shakespeare says, “is the rub.”
That is the question that has lead to five different “meta-themes” or stories that have made this year’s Straw Poll what it is.
I’m Your Huckabee.
Mike Huckabee placed a surprising second in the 2007 Ames Straw Poll shocking the candidate field, the media, the nation. That was the crest of the wave that led him to a resounding win in the Iowa caucuses. What happened in Iowa with Huckabee was truly a phenomenon—and it was, as they say, lightning in a bottle. I don’t think that will ever happen again, at least not in my lifetime. He was the right man and the right time in the right place. His support was fierce and loyal. And a lot of that support remained until the day he declared on his show on the Fox News Channel that he would not be seeking the GOP nomination.
From that point on, all the remaining candidates wanted Huckabee’s base (understandably). Some of Huckabee’s supporters were willing to be courted, but most were very wary. So, the dance began. From what I’ve seen, the Huckabee supporters have not moved en mass to one candidate as the media suspected. They have watched, vetted, and questioned every move by every “social conservative,” weighing and measuring it against the standard of . . . Mike Huckabee, right or wrong as that may be. Many that I know have gone with Michele Bachmann, some to Tim Pawlenty, some to Rick Santorum, some to Ron Paul, and a few to Herman Cain. I do not anticipate a landslide for any candidate, but the straw poll results will show who got enough of a majority of Huckabee’s support to pull out a win.
Anyone But Romney
Romney has a decent support base in Iowa—most of them are your dyed-in-the-wool establishment Republicans who will have their voter ID card placed in their casket with them. Okay, that’s maybe a little extreme, but you catch my drift. That’s the 20ish% that you see in the Romney vs. Bachmann Iowa polls right now.
But the majority of Iowans who will be voting in the Ames Straw Poll are looking for the anti-Romney. Not all are doing so for the same reasons. Some Iowans don’t trust him, some don’t trust him, and others don’t trust him. Oh, okay—I guess they are all the same reason. They don’t trust him not to flip-flop on important issues for political expediency, they don’t trust him because of RomneyCare, they don’t like that he dissed our state. Personally, I don’t think the other candidates did enough to prove themselves to be the anti-Romney while here in Iowa—but the ones who survive the Straw Poll have time to remedy that before the caucuses. But, the entrance of Perry might throw a wrench into that strategy because now they’ll have to fight a two front war. So far, they’ve missed many, many opportunities to contrast themselves with Romney—on his “pro-life” record, his judicial appointments, his health care, etc.
Calling All Fighters
Many of the Iowans who will vote in the straw poll are just a little tired of business as usual in Washington—as are the folks who attend straw polls across the country. They are looking for a fighter. This is why I think someone like Tim Pawlenty didn’t gain much traction in the polls here in Iowa. He does not have the demeanor of a fighter. The narrative of Pawlenty has been from the beginning that he is a “nice guy” who is more establishment than Tea Party. Only in the last several weeks have we seen him start to fight—and that’s just been against his fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann who is a darling of the Tea Party. His repeated attacks culminated in the confrontation at the debate on Thursday night. I predict it was too little too late AND the wrong target for Pawlenty to redeem himself as the champion “we the people” are looking for in the White House.
My Guy Can Beat Your Guy
Perhaps one of the most disappointing reasons I hear fellow conservatives give when they chose to support a candidate in a primary is, “Well, he/she can beat Obama.” What an embarrassing low standard to set for ourselves. However, it’s a rationale that is alive and well leading up to the Ames Straw Poll. I know that some folks have chosen to support candidate A over candidate B because “candidate A can beat Obama” even though admittedly candidate B more closely aligns with their worldview. I keep hearing about Obama’s “billion dollar war chest” and “his control over the mainstream media.” How sad that our focus has become beating one man—and replacing him with someone who is potentially just as bad—instead of supporting the candidate who will promote the most righteousness. I recently saw one person write, “the candidates who think like us can’t do the job.” Remind you of anything? Remember Samuel’s reaction when he saw all of David’s brothers—then realized that God was anointing the small little shepherd brother to be the next king of Israel? We look on the outside, God looks on the heart.
The Grass is Always Greener
This year we have a lot of “leaners.” Some folks here in Iowa have had a difficult time getting firmly behind one candidate, but lots are “leaning” toward one or the other. Some are still undecided going into this straw poll. Some started out firmly in one camp, only to become disenfranchised with the candidate or his campaign, and they then change their loyalties or remain on the fence.
I think some of the reason for that is folks are waiting for the other shoes to drop—namely the shoes from Texas and Alaska. Iowans are a little concerned about going all-in behind a candidate, then having the shiny new kid show up. Rick Perry from Texas will be in starting the Saturday of the straw poll. Sarah Palin is speaking to a large tea party group here in Iowa on September 3. Both of them have a presence in Iowa already and would be ready to quickly make a run for a caucus win.
So, many Iowans are waiting to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side.