Poll to Caucus:
The Start of a Primary Campaign
The GOP candidate who might have the most to gain from January's
Iowa caucuses, political analysts say, is the same candidate who
did not attend the Iowa Straw Poll in August.
Sen. John McCain decided to skip the Republican event -- with its
luxury tents, barbecues, music concerts and stump speeches -- saying
it was not a democratic process. He preferred to hold onto his cash
and spend it on the New Hampshire primary and other early campaigns.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor George W. Bush, who had launched his Iowa
campaign six weeks earlier and won the straw poll decisively, collecting
31 percent of the votes in a field of nine. Since then, several
of the contenders -- including former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander,
former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole and former Vice President
Dan Quayle -- have bowed out of the race. In addition, Patrick Buchanan,
a former Nixon speechwriter and three-time GOP presidential candidate,
jumped to the Reform Party.
According to political analysts, McCain, who is trailing Texas Governor
George W. Bush in the national polls, could use a strong finish
in the Iowa Caucuses to bolster his already strong bid in New Hampshire.
A December Time-CNN poll placed McCain first in New Hampshire, 37
to 33 percent, ahead of Bush. A good finish in Iowa and New Hampshire,
analysts, such as Charles Cook, say is his only chance at building
enough momentum toward winning the nomination. Otherwise, it might
be too difficult to stop the Texas governor.
"Usually people don't leave the race until the Iowa Caucuses,"
said Dan Balz of the Washington Post on The NewsHour on August 16.
"They're now leaving after the Iowa Straw Poll. [Alexander]
is the third candidate already to drop out of the race. I think
it was an acknowledgment of Gov. Bush's great strength at this point
as a candidate, that he is a dominant front-runner."
Another candidate who saw a boost in numbers following the Iowa
straw poll was Elizabeth Dole. Though a third place finisher, Dole
scored higher than several other high profile candidates, which
gave at least a momentary boost to her candidacy. Dole, who later
dropped out of the race due to lack of finances, endorsed Bush on
Second place straw poll finisher Steve Forbes used his 21 percent
support to try and establish himself as the alternative to Bush.
Forbes invested heavily in the straw poll, providing his supporters
with an air-conditioned tent and playland for their kids. He has
sought to bring together both social conservatives and his trademark
flat-tax allies. Opinion polls indicate Forbes may have another
strong showing in the caucus, perhaps even comfortably beating McCain.
"Two thirds of the voters did not vote for [Bush]," Forbes
said following the straw poll. "They thought they were going
to do better. The establishment vote has now been split. I think
the choice is very clear right now."
Gary Bauer, former head of the conservative Family Research Council
think tank, landed five points behind Dole. He surprised pundits
by gathering more votes than several other candidates who had been
campaigning in the state for years.
"I certainly think that the social conservative vote is coalescing
around me," Bauer said after the vote. "And I think it
inevitably means that some other conservative candidates are going
to drop out of the race."
Five months later, as predicted, a slimmer field is trying to capitalize
on the caucus. Caucuses are typically held in locations such as
school gymnasiums, fire halls and other public venues, where turnout
is typically lower than a primary and often harder to predict.