Debate Shows Pawlenty, Bachmann Have Most at Stake in Straw Poll

BY David Chalian  August 12, 2011 at 8:52 AM EDT

Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty; photo by Charlie Neibergall/Pool-Getty Images

Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann square off at the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate. Photo by Charlie Neibergall/Pool-Getty Images.

The Morning Line

DES MOINES, Iowa | The Iowa GOP Straw Poll has a terrible track record at predicting the winner of the caucuses the following year. In fact, the winner of the Republican caucuses is often not the party’s eventual presidential nominee.

But those facts won’t alter the outsized attention this weekend’s festivities will receive. And just because the straw poll isn’t predictive doesn’t mean it’s without real impact on the shape of the race.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has the most on the line heading into Saturday’s straw poll. If he finishes some distance behind Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, his candidacy will quickly diminish in relevance as his fundraising ability will take a severe hit.

However, Pawlenty isn’t alone with a lot riding on the straw poll. (By the way, results are expected to be announced between 6-7 p.m. ET Saturday night from the Hilton Coliseum stage at Iowa State University in Ames.) Bachmann is looking to show some organizational strength and the ability to convert buzz and crowds into motivated supporters willing to cast a ballot for her. If she fails to make a strong showing, she’ll likely chalk it up to her relative late entrance into the race, but that won’t halt the questions about the longevity of her candidacy.

Thursday night’s heated exchanges between the two Minnesotans is proof positive that they each see the other as a potential obstacle. (Be sure to check out our take on Thursday night’s debate here.)

Paul has built a more sophisticated political operation compared to his efforts four years ago. He’s bringing in more early money, and the issue terrain (monetary and fiscal policy front and center) has moved decidedly in his favor.

With a total voting universe of only roughly 15,000 Iowa Republicans, it’s important not to over-interpret the results. But just as important, is to watch carefully how each of the major straw poll competitors react to the results and who emerges as the star of the weekend (see: Huckabee, Mike; 2007), because it will help shape the race in Iowa heading into the fall campaign when voters begin to tune in.

HE’S RUNNING

Some commentators joked Thursday that one of the real winners of the Republican debate wasn’t on the stage. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has fueled speculation for months that he will enter the race, put that speculation to rest as he announced Thursday that he had decided to jump into the fray. He will present a personality-driven challenge from Mitt Romney’s right flank and threatens to crowd out less experienced candidates like Bachmann.

The Austin American Statesman has details from Perry’s rollout:

“Even Perry has stopped being coy about his plans.

“‘My hope is that in four years, people could take a look at what we’ve done in Washington, D.C., and know that I have made Washington, D.C., less consequential in their lives,’ Perry said Thursday in an interview with a New Hampshire TV station.

“That interview was taped in KVUE’s North Austin studios. Afterward, KVUE staffers presented Perry with a printout of the AP alert. The governor, sporting a broad smile, signed and dated the printout, then slipped out without further comment.

“The official confirmation of Perry for President gave the governor another day of headlines and breaking news alerts on cable TV. It ensured that news reports of Thursday night’s Iowa debate among eight already announced GOP candidates will include at least one line about the looming presence of a certain Texan. More news will follow about Saturday’s speech-slash-announcement.”

Perry will make his announcement that Saturday in South Carolina as part of a ploy to include himself in any coverage of the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, where most of the rest of the candidates will be politicking.

The Obama campaign is already preparing its response to Gov. Perry’s primary message that 37 percent of the new jobs created in the United States since the recession officially ended in June 2009 were created in Texas.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Friday morning that growth in the oil industry and in military contracting because of America’s engagement overseas are the primary drivers of the job creation success in Texas and that Gov. Perry simply is the beneficiary.

Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Axelrod went further in his critique of Perry’s record on education and health care in Texas. “It’s a record of decimation, not of progress,” he said.

Aaron Blake and Beth Marlowe of the Washington Post report that Perry wasted no time in seeking money for his effort:

“Perry’s campaign had sent out an e-mail fundraising blast, inviting major contributors to attend events in Texas cities and neighboring states at the end of August and beginning of September: Tulsa and Oklahoma City (Aug. 29); Fort Worth and Dallas (Aug. 30); Austin, New Orleans and Houston (Aug. 31); and Midland, Texas, and San Antonio (Sept. 1).

“‘Thank you for being willing to contribute to Governor Perry’s Presidential Campaign and raise money, [or] both. On behalf of our team, we are very, very grateful,’ says the e-mail. ‘We are trying to get in the first million dollars of contributions very rapidly, to give the campaign its initial capital so important to get off the ground well. If you can send your own check in to us now, it will further that goal.’”

CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE

Romney’s statement Thursday to a crowd at the Iowa State Fair that “corporations are people” is already a campaign cudgel Democrats are using against him. It’s evidence that the Democratic Party is already looking to Romney as President Obama’s 2012 foe.

Just hours after Romney’s comment, the Democratic National Committee remixed video of the event with Barbara Streisand’s song “People,” photos of corporate jets and headlines about corporate profits in an effort to mock Romney.

It’s a preview of what’s likely to be a campaign dominated by rapid-response online ads and statements from both parties hoping to solidify any potential gaffe into a damaging narrative.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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