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How Will Iowa Straw Poll Shape GOP Field?

August 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
After Thursday night's Republican debate in Iowa, GOP presidential hopefuls headed to the State Fair to court voters ahead of Saturday's GOP straw poll. Judy Woodruff discusses how the debate played out and what's expected in the weekend poll with Gwen Ifill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gwen will be in Iowa all weekend.

Margaret Warner talked with her from the state fairgrounds just a short time ago.

MARGARET WARNER: Hi, Gwen. You look to be right in the middle of the action out there.


GWEN IFILL: I’m out here in the heartland.


MARGARET WARNER: So, what’s been the reaction among the players, other people you have talked to, to last night’s debate?

GWEN IFILL: Well, last night’s debate was really a breakthrough for a lot of the candidates.

And all of the people who have been watching very carefully here in Iowa, as you saw in the piece, they haven’t necessarily made up their minds. They wanted to see whether Tim Pawlenty was going to come alive, whether Jon Huntsman, who is not participating in the Straw Poll, was going to make his voice heard.

But, instead, what they got was an interesting little sideshow, a fight between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, the two Minnesotans. And they also begin to see what the front-runner looked like, Mitt Romney, who also is not participating in the Straw Poll. There are a lot of people in this race who were depending on last night’s debate and tomorrow’s Straw Poll to survive.

MARGARET WARNER: And, meanwhile, you have had right in the state fair where you are now Sarah Palin coming in today, I gather, and Rick Perry, not-yet-announced candidate, coming in Sunday. What impact are they having?

GWEN IFILL: Well, Sarah Palin shows up, and there is an immediate crowd, which is what happened here today. She came. She toured. She visited the butter cow, which is celebrating its 100th year on display here, a cow carved entirely of butter.

And she decided to come back to try some the deep-fried butter, another delicacy here. But everywhere she goes, she is asked, is she going to run? Everywhere she goes, she says she doesn’t know yet and she welcomes Rick Perry to the race — Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, who actually does have a big footprint and who a lot of activists in Iowa are more curious about.

He is going to be announcing this weekend, visiting New Hampshire, as I said, South Carolina. But the real big thing everybody will be watching is what happens when he gets to Waterloo, Iowa, here, Sarah — Michele Bachmann’s birthplace.

MARGARET WARNER: So how much interest is there among Iowans in general or Iowa Republicans in the Straw Poll tomorrow? What are they looking for there?

GWEN IFILL: Well, it’s really interesting, because Iowans by their very nature follow politics very closely. But even they are saying, gee, really? It’s still August. But they are very curious.

A lot of Iowa Republicans are very unhappy with the way things are going in Washington. People stop me on the street and say, when are you going to tell them? When are we going to get those bums out of there? When are you going to tell them to be serious?

But they haven’t decided who is the person who can defeat Barack Obama. And they have a wide choice. The social conservatives here in Iowa have a reputation for determining the outcome of things like the caucuses in January and this Straw Poll tomorrow. But a lot of people are saying this year to me that the economy is as big a deal as any social issue, and that — and they’re looking for the candidate who is going to be able to articulate that vision.

MARGARET WARNER: And who has the organizational muscle, from what you have been able to see?

GWEN IFILL: You know, it’s interesting.

Tim Pawlenty, who is widely perceived as not being very strong, I saw him this morning. He has actually got a lot of organizational muscle. And, therefore, if he doesn’t pull out a very early finish, people are very — a high finish, one, two or three, preferably one or two — people are going to say it was all for naught.

Mitt Romney, who, of course, is not competing here, spent $10 million on these caucuses last time and on these — on the Straw Poll last time, and has decided he’s not going to take part this time. So people are waiting to see. I had a senior official say he’s expecting Michele Bachmann to win.

So expectations have now gone up for her to pull out a really big win here tomorrow. And then there’s Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, who actually has a very lively, very engaged, young support base who also are going to show up there. And we will be interested to see whether they could actually show up and then cast those votes.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Gwen, thank you. Have a great time at the Straw Poll.

There is a viewer who wants to know if you have tried the fried Oreos.


GWEN IFILL: I went for the fried Twinkie, Margaret. It seemed much more disgusting.


MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Gwen. We will look forward to your report on Monday.

GWEN IFILL: Take care, Margaret.