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Straw Poll Winner: Obama

Posted on Aug 15, 2011
AP / Charlie Neibergall

William Temple, of Brunswick, Georgia, waves a flag outside Hilton Coliseum before the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll.

AMES, Iowa—Strolling through the pageant of unhealthy food and unsound ideology that is the Iowa Straw Poll, amid the good-natured Republicans who swept Michele Bachmann to an impressive victory, I couldn’t help but reflect that this quadrennial exercise is one crazy way to pick a major-party candidate for president.

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You’ll note that I used the words “Michele Bachmann” and “president” in the same sentence. That someone with views as extreme as Bachmann’s could win—and that Ron Paul, who seems to inhabit his own little reality, could finish second—would seem to rob the straw poll of all but comic value, making it analogous to the opening joke a dinner speaker might tell to warm up a stone-faced audience. But the ritual is serious business, as poor Tim Pawlenty found out. Less than 24 hours after he finished a distant third in the straw poll, “former candidate” became his new honorific.

Long before the results were tallied, it seemed clear that Pawlenty was in trouble. Like the other candidates who participated Saturday, he had a big tent on the grounds of the Iowa State University coliseum where voters could enjoy free food and entertainment. People were happy to line up for the Famous Dave’s barbecue that Pawlenty was serving, but they didn’t stay long—and when they walked away, they weren’t wearing the green Pawlenty T-shirts that signaled support. By mid-afternoon, volunteers were glum.

There were plenty of orange Bachmann T-shirts, though, and an even longer line at her tent, despite the fact that she was serving inferior food: giant corn dogs and trompe l’oeil “beef sundaes” that consisted of a scoop of mashed potatoes topped with chunks of beef, a ladle of gravy and a cherry tomato.

Near the Bachmann tent, I ran into a couple of guys wearing “Veterans for Rick Perry” shirts. There was no Perry tent—this was just hours after the Texas governor had announced his candidacy—but that didn’t keep Dan Shelley and John Burkhardt from working the crowd, even if they had no goodies to offer.


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“I’ve known Rick since 1987,” said Shelley, an Austin lawyer who served in the Texas Legislature with Perry. “He had a reputation as a bulldog fiscal conservative, and that has never changed.”

Despite not competing in the straw poll, Perry got more votes than Mitt Romney, who also did not participate but has spent months establishing himself as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Perhaps Romney still holds that distinction, but things just got a lot more complicated. And President Obama—who, by the way, really ought to reconsider that Martha’s Vineyard vacation he’s planning, and focus instead on the economy—may have caught a lucky break.

Post-Iowa, it looks as if the GOP field has three top-tier candidates. Romney has been targeted for a barrage of attacks from Obama’s political team, largely because he is seen as the potential Republican opponent who could best appeal to independent voters—and thus pose the most serious threat.

Romney has tried to walk a delicate line, moving far enough to the right to satisfy the party’s activist base, including the tea party wing, but leaving himself a path back to the center in the general election. It’s a smart strategy—but first he has to win the nomination, and he will be hard-pressed to throw red meat to the GOP primary electorate the way Bachmann and Perry can.

Bachmann, the staunchest of social conservatives, is also establishing herself as the most extreme of fiscal hawks; her position on the debt ceiling, for example, is that it should not have been raised by one cent, no matter what financial havoc might ensue. Perry, whose career has been built on antipathy to government spending, showed his chops as a social conservative earlier this month by staging a day-long televised prayer meeting in Houston.

The emergence of Bachmann and Perry as Romney’s chief rivals has shifted the GOP contest sharply to the right. This may fire up the Republican base, but it may also turn off independents who have made clear their distaste for uncompromising partisanship.

The Republican establishment, or what’s left of it, is nervous about this dynamic. But the establishment isn’t running the party anymore. The 16,892 Iowans who voted in the straw poll certainly didn’t intend to brighten Obama’s prospects of reelection, but that’s just what they might have accomplished.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, August 17, 2011 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment

Gene, Gene, Gene,
As usual, you’ve failed to wipe the stardust from your eyes from election night
2008. Bachmann only won because she was so generous in handing out 4,000
free passes. And to say that Ron Paul adds nothing but comic value only shows
your readers just how little you actually know of the issues.

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By Stupid Git, August 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“This may fire up the Republican base, but it may also turn off independents who
have made clear their distaste for uncompromising partisanship.”

That’s good for Obama since his distain for liberals has eroded support from all
but the most die-hard sufferers of “battered spouse syndrome”.  He keeps
punching liberals but only because we don’t support him enough!

Personally, I’d vote for Ron Paul over Obama. I may detest most of what he stands
for but at least I know he’ll stand by what he says. Obama says many things I
agree with and then does the exact opposite. Plus, wouldn’t it be amazing to have
a president who didn’t resort to war and bailouts as the first choice?

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By KittatinyHawk, August 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Madisolation Like your thoughts.  No one really wants Bachman and that is the truth.
But Mitt the Nit and Perry are going to sideswipe her.
She is going to be aon a tour Bus going nowhere like Palin.  I would have thought that R Paul would have been a Conservative hopeful.  Guess he wants to clean up Government and neither Party wants that.

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By Birch, August 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

Ron Paul is getting no media traction because he is not an
unconditional supporter of Israel and opposes giving them
billions every year in military aid. There is another article on this
site by Juan Cole pointing out Bachmann’s crazy views on Iran,
but it is precisely because she parrots the Zionist line on Iran
that her media coverage is way out of proportion to her actual
political weight. It would be a disaster for the neocon militarists
if Ron Paul got elected because he would send them to hell. But
with Bachmann, it doesn’t matter how crazy her views are as
long as she support the Zionist agenda in the Middle East.

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By JMD, August 16, 2011 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment

Eugene Robinson:      8/16/2011
    A pleasant distraction - all the hoopla
and fanfare going on,on purpose of course.A
distraction from the very important issues that
are changing us forever.Least we ignore them,at
our own peril.
    Thanking you for the opportunity to comment -
    James M. deLaurier   8:56 PM

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, August 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment

Yes, Robinson tiptoes around any mention of Ron Paul in his article except dismissing Pauls anti-war message as “his own little reality.

No, Robinson loves Obama blindly, not because as a president he is effective, but because he is black.

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By Maani, August 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

It is worth noting that two separate polls, conducted by two very different polling groups within the past week or so, found that the majority of those who identify as supporting the Tea Party do NOT support some of the actual Tea Party politicians’ positions. Indeed, it seems that Tea Party politicians (and candidates) are further to the right even than their alleged constituencies, and have essentially “gone rogue,” all but ignoring what their constituencies actually believe.  This would seem a recipe for disaster, to which it seems the TP politicians and candidates are willfully blind.

Yes, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that the current slate of GOP candidates (which one pundit called “the most radically conservative group of condididates since Barry Goldwater”) - with their ultra-far-right, largely fundamentally-Christian-driven positions - will have a negative effect on independents.  But it is almost as likely that at least SOME Tea Party supporters will also back away from the more extreme candidates and positions.

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By Wayne, August 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama sucks and it does not matter how much worse his opponents are, he still sucks. Don’t fall for the lesser of 2 evils anymore, because you still end up with evil.

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By SoTexGuy, August 16, 2011 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

It’s all hype and invention.. great and thoughtful comments, though. Eugene will never cease supporting Obama.. he may occasionally show his disappointment at one or another thing ‘O’ does.. but he will be beating and begging us to vote for him next year.

About where Reagan might have been in the political spectrum, left or right.. Here’s a thoughtful and well-researched article that includes views of Ronald Reagan not ever seen in light media discourse.


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By Dave L., August 16, 2011 at 10:29 am Link to this comment

You also failed to mention that every vote for Bachmann came with a free ticket to the Lyle Lovett concert. Talk about blatant bribery. Ron Paul is anything but fringe anymore. He wants to end the ridiculous wars and stop the Federal Reserve from destroying our money. RP garners more support from active duty military than all other candidates combined. To call him fringe is to call them fringe as well.

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Hulk2008's avatar

By Hulk2008, August 16, 2011 at 8:49 am Link to this comment

I agree that Ron Paul is a much more interesting and thoughtful candidate than Ms. Bachmann. 
    But isn’t that the real point? 
The electorate rarely if ever picks favorites on the basis of logic or message.  Some chose Michelle because of that “cute” yellow dress, others because she has nice hair, others because she uses the most cheerleading style in bashing the Pres.  Guys may pick Ron because he is surly or because he calls out for total freedom and shuns entanglements or because he seems to have more encyclopedic information about the history of monetary valuations and the Gold Standard.
    Tragic as it may seem, the next Pres will be picked mostly on whim.  If Barack can find some jobs before November ‘12 he will deserve to be re-elected; but even then, he could be defeated because somebody liked Perry’s Texas swagger or Romney’s wonderful haircut.
    Yes, I am disappointed that the troops are still not home.  I have to believe Gen. Petraeus must have had quite a sales pitch to keep the GIs involved. 
    But frankly I don’t see ANY conservative type who could succeed in leading an opossum to a road kill…... much less leading the US back to prosperity.

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By Dr Bones, August 16, 2011 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Reagan is to the left of the candidates, including Mr. O.

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By madisolation, August 16, 2011 at 6:42 am Link to this comment

Notice how Robinson studiously avoided mentioning Ron Paul, who came within 1% of Batsh*t Crazy Bachmann, despite all of Bachmann’s money?
When mainstream and not-so-mainstream left or right wing sites take pains to avoid mentioning a candidate, it means the existing corporate parties are afraid of him/her. Think of how little face time Nader, Kucinich, Gravel got.
Please, when the primaries and caucuses roll around, change your party affiliation long enough to vote for Ron Paul. Not because you believe in all his views, but because it would be much better to have Obama debate Ron Paul than stupid Bachmann. If Ron Paul gains momentum, you just might see Obama think twice about cutting our benefits, too. This is one way we can scare the crap out of Obama and his handlers. It’s much more effective than signing petitions. Think about it: how is Obama going to react to the one anti-war candidate out there if he wins primary after primary? Paul says he would never take away Social Security for people who have come to depend on it. What does Obama say?

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