Ready, Ames, Fire!

Per the Washington Post, Mitt Romney won the Ames Straw Poll while Mike Huckabee took second. Here are the results:

1. Romney: 4516 (31.5%)
2. Huckabee: 2587 (18.1%)
3. Brownback: 2192 (15.3%)
4. Tancredo: 1961 (13.7%)
5. Paul: 1305 (9.1%)
6. T. Thompson: 1039 (7.3%)
7. F. Thompson: 203 (1.4%)
8. Giuliani: 183 (1.3%)
9. Hunter: 174 (1.2%)
10. McCain: 101 (1%)
11. Cox: 41 (.1%)

Total ballots cast: 14,302

Before providing my analysis of these results, allow me to crow about predicting wins by Tancredo and Huckabee in my previous post.

Having said that, here's what I think about the results:

Mitt Romney won the contest as expected. Whether he beat expectations or not is anyone's guess. He did invest a lot of resources into Ames, however, so he might not be pleased with how much this "victory" cost him. The departures of Giuliani and McCain made this victory more of a Pyrrhic one than a genuine one. The tricky part for Romney now is to translate his Iowa success into South Carolina success. Seeing that he is well positioned in both Iowa and New Hampshire, if he can go three for three by snagging South Carolina, he might back Rudy Giuliani into a serious corner before Super Tuesday even begins. Could Mitt Romney really be the Republican presidential nominee? Six months ago, I couldn't see it. But now it looks quite plausible.

Mike Huckabee won Ames by coming in second. He did the best job of beating expectations and should benefit from a strong infusion of campaign cash. The importance of Huckabee's performance in the straw poll cannot be overstressed. By placing second ahead of Christian conservative rival Sam Brownback, he likely eliminated Brownback from the race. In addition to that, the media attention that will follow Huckabee may pose a serious threat to Mitt Romney. I think Huckabee is a more genuine conservative than Romney is, so Romney better hope the media don't begin comparing them side by side. Huckabee's fundraising has been lackluster, but if he's able to catch a spark in terms of campaign donations, Romney (along with Fred Thompson and John McCain) could be in serious trouble.

Sam Brownback is obviously disappointed. While coming in third is nothing to sneeze at, he placed lower than the candidate who was occupying the same piece of political real estate--Mike Huckabee. How can he convince people to donate to his campaign because he's the best candidate to carry the Christian conservative mantle in light of Huckabee's stronger showing? I don't expect Brownback to stay in the race much longer.

Tom Tancredo did an excellent job of beating expectations. Seeing that he has traditionally been mired in the 1-2% range in most polls, these straw poll results have to be sweet vindication for him. The 10-candidate field is going to shrink over the next few days, so he'll have a better chance to get his message out. He is still not yet positioned to take on the frontrunners, but he's getting closer. His strong showing should serve as a warning to the other Republicans that the illegal immigration issue still matters to an awful lot of Republicans. The other candidates (particularly the top-tier ones) would be wise to start speaking Tancredo's language, otherwise future voters will punish them by supporting Tancredo instead. On a related note, someone responded to my recent post Why Minorities Don't Vote Republican by saying people should ignore Tancredo's "fringe" candidacy. However, the strength of Tancredo's performance here suggests anything but a "fringe" candidacy. For better or for worse, there is a large segment of people in the Republican Party that support Tancredo and his rhetoric and that is very off-putting to people who are suspicious of the Republican Party's commitment to people who are not White, heterosexual, English-speaking, married, Christian males.

Ron Paul did reasonably well. The fact that he did better than McCain, Giuliani, and Fred Thompson means something because they are all far better known. No, those candidates did not participate in the poll, but he still did far better than they did. His performance suggests he is reasonably viable. A smaller field of candidates will better allow him to get his libertarian message out. I am intrigued by how he will fare in the New Hampshire primaries in January, seeing that the voters there have a libertarian streak. (The state's motto is "live free or die.") Could he be a spoiler candidate? Or could voters tire of Rudy McRomney and just take a chance with Paul?

Tommy Thompson is one of the clear losers in this poll. He said he would drop out if he did not place in the top three. Well, he didn't even place in the top half. I expect him to drop out of the race shortly. He just didn't seem to impress many voters in the debates and had one too many stupid excuses for his gaffes to be taken seriously, in my opinion. Thompson is like the new Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor who dropped out of the race a few weeks ago. When Tommy Thompson drops out, people will be shocked and lament Fred Thompson's premature demise. Nobody knows who this guy is. Enough said.

Duncan Hunter must be heartbroken by these results. He's handsome, authoritative, and a perfect fit for conservatives on defense, immigration, abortion, spending, cultural issues, and terrorism. But he fared worse than two candidates who weren't even participating in the straw poll. The writing's on the wall. It's time for him to exit, stage left.

Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain are all mired in the 1% range. These candidates were all penalized for not participating in the straw poll. Fred Thompson in particular should be careful about this because of the rumors that he's a lazy candidate. In politics, just like dating, you have to swing to hit. That means hitting the campaign trail, pressing the flesh, giving speeches, and fielding questions from anxious voters until the wee hours of the morning at town hall meetings and private parties.

Even Rudy Giuliani should not take his support for granted. I think more than 1.3% of Iowa's Republicans support his campaign. But they won't if he doesn't work for it. If Giuliani allows Romney to win Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be under incredible pressure to win one of the other early states before Super Tuesday, where he is more likely to fare better. Giuliani is the lone moderate in the race, so he doesn't have to worry about another candidate stepping on his turf. But if he's not careful, he risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Simply put, McCain's showing is an embarrassment. Of all the declared candidates, he fared the worst in the poll. That's not good for the morale of his struggling campaign, but I expect him to write this off as a byproduct of the tumultuous period he was having this summer. Having said that, it would have been a huge psychological boost for him if he had placed higher than at least one of the other top-tier candidates who did not participate. Losing to Duncan Hunter is not a good way to go about energizing your supporters.

John Cox is irrelevant.

To summarize:

Huckabee and Tancredo are the big winners.

Romney and Paul did okay.

Brownback, Hunter, Tommy Thompson, and McCain are the big losers.

Giuliani and Fred Thompson got out what they put in.

Look for Brownback, Hunter, and Tommy Thompson to drop out in the coming days.

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