Luke Cahill gives us the lowdown on the latest developments in the race to become the Republican candidate.
The quadrennial poll taken during the state fair in the little town of Ames, Iowa always makes headlines. The straw poll was won by native Iowan, Michele Bachmann with the libertarian Ron Paul, coming second. However, the report notes that of the 6,000 ballots that were handed out by the Bachmann campaign team, “only four in five of those who took them voted for her, meaning they either skipped the vote entirely or voted for other candidates”. Former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty came third. It was not hard to see Bachmann finishing well with conservative, rural Iowans generally receptive to her small government and low tax message. This does not mean that her eventual nomination is assured however.
With the poll a make or break deal for Pawlenty, and after a poor showing, he gave up his bid for the nomination after just two months. Pawlenty’s campaign was plagued with problems, especially the fact that no one knew who he was. In a Republican field awash with strong personalities and forceful denunciations of the current administration policy, Pawlenty seemed to fade into the background. A number of candidates excluded themselves from the poll, notably former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney and former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.
Both wisely side stepped the Iowa poll, partly because of their Mormon creed, and partly due to the fact that they are both seen by some as being too moderate. The primary that is more representative is that of New Hampshire. It is New Hampshire that is historically the first primary of the election year and is always held right after the first caucus, in Iowa. Expected to be held sometime in February 2012, New Hampshire has large cities and a mixed economy and thus is a more representative of the nation as a whole and therefore is worthy of much closer examination than the Ames poll. It is unclear how Bachmann will fare in the first primary of the campaign, with voters very different to the ones she grew up with.
One candidate that did not enter the Iowa poll is the longest serving governor of Texas, Rick Perry. He finally announced his intention to seek the nomination and conveniently chose to announce on the same day as the Ames results. Just days after his entry for the nomination, he made headlines when he called the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke’s option to print more money to aid the economy, “almost treasonous”. Perry did not withdraw the remarks and caused similar problems when he questioned man made climate change, which had the danger of causing moderates to move to the likes of Romney or Huntsman. It does however do what is needed at this stage of the campaign and get people talking about Perry and get Republican voters to see where he stands and support him.
Bachmann may have won the Ames poll, but whatever gain she had was snuffed out both by Perry’s announcement and her own actions. Perry was due to give a speech in Iowa shortly after the Ames results were announced. When Bachmann heard of this she requested that she speak at the same event also. Bachmann did speak but did not stay to eat or talk to the reported 300 people at the event. Perry made hay and was reported to have talked to nearly everyone at the small, largely insignificant event. The result, Perry looked like he wanted to be there, Bachmann looked egotistical and came off as distant. She should be worried. Compared to Perry, who has eleven years as governor of one of the largest states in the Union, Bachmann’s record in Congress is thin.
Not only that but Perry would not have entered the campaign for the nomination if he knew that he could not raise the money to stay in for the long haul. Bachmann could previously lay claim to being the unofficial Tea Party candidate, and with that all the financial and public support that comes with this. Republicans however might see Perry as a better long term bet, having been under the spotlight for so long and have a better chance of winning against President Obama.
The Tea Party followers are spoilt for choice with the Perry’s, Bachmann’s and Santorum’s but while the candidates would certainly appeal to a core of voters that the party holds, they tend to alienate many of the more moderate voters. There must be a balancing act between finding someone who can appeal to the Republican base and at the same time attract moderate voters. The simple act of sighing could be hugely significant. During the first of the 2000 election year television debates between Vice-President Al Gore and then governor of Texas, George W. Bush, Gore was heard to sigh under his microphone during the answers Bush gave. Gore came across as the winner in the debate but his sighing was arrogant and allowed Bush to paint Gore as out of touch with mainstream America.
The election was Gore’s to lose with the economy doing well and the country running a surplus. Bush however always seemed to come across as more like the kind of guy you could have a beer with. Perry seems to possess similar charm with the voters. It is unclear if Bachmann can be as polished as Perry for so consistent a time, while being under such pressure.
Much of Perry’s platform will hinge on the “Texas Miracle” as the key to his national success. While it is true that 30,000 more jobs are in Texas now than in December 2007, the picture is more complex than that with Perry only a part of the reason why the numbers are up. Even so, Bachmann cannot claim anything like this during her few short years in office.
Perry has never lost an election for public office but if he wins the nomination he may have to choose a vice-presidential candidate that is not to his liking. Either way Bachmann may face the same fate as……..what was his name again, Tim somebody.