Ames Straw Poll will jump-start 2012 election

Freedom New Mexico

This time of year, most Americans are spending a balmy day at the beach, or heading out on vacation. Not the Republican presidential candidates. They’re frequently swooping into Iowa to campaign for the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll. The non-binding event is the first expression by actual voters in America for their preference. And it’s a run-up to the Feb. 6 Iowa caucuses, which are important in that they determine delegates to next year’s Republican National Convention.

Democrats skip holding a straw poll, but do participate in the Iowa caucuses. President Barack Obama is assured of re-nomination by his party. But he has been running ads in Iowa and four other states blaming Republicans for blocking progress on the economy. And on June 28, the president flew in to visit an Alcoa plant that has been creating manufacturing jobs. “And in fact, you guys are telling me that you’re thinking about hiring some more folks in the near future,” the president said. “That’s worth applauding.”

Job growth, is, obviously, a major campaign theme: Accentuate the jobs created rather than the high unemployment figures. President Obama won Iowa in 2008 and knows that, in November 2012, it will be one of the crucial “swing states” that could decide the general election.

Among Republicans participating this year are Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, an Iowa native; Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who captured 9 percent in the 2007 Iowa straw poll; Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota; former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum; businessman Herman Cain and Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is sitting out the caucuses. So is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, even though he won the straw poll in 2007. Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades explained in a statement, “In the last presidential campaign we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them. This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses.”

“It’s a matter of bragging rights and expectation,” Jack Pitney told us; he’s a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “If you put a lot of effort in and come up short, that’s going to become one more difficult thing down the road. If you do well, it’s a boost, but no guarantee of victory. The ability to do well is a sign of organizational strength.”

The straw poll will be a focus of TV news channels and other news outlets in the coming weeks. Pitney said that voters in New Mexico, Texas and other states should “focus on what specifics the candidates offer for the budget, deficits and debt. What are the candidates’ policies? And how specific and realistic are those policies?”

A June 29 Rasmussen poll found that, if the general election were held today, a generic GOP candidate would get 46 percent of likely voters, beating Obama’s 42 percent. So the Republican nomination this year is a real prize. Let the presidential campaign horse race begin.