The Ames Straw Poll no longer matters in the Republican presidential primaries? That's the idea the vintage media outlets are selling. Much like their continuing relevance, it's not so much an idea as a wish. And some of the "leaders" in the Republican field are also trying to dish dirt on the event for their own benefit.
Why does the Ames event matter?
First, Ames does prove something. Ames is a measurement of the nuts and bolts of a campaign's organization. Mitt Romney spent a ton of money in 2007 to win in Ames. He did. But what he didn't foresee, and no pundits did either, was a second place showing for Mike Huckabee that gave the "gosh golly governor" a serious place in the Republican conversation during that election cycle.
Some campaigns come to Ames to die. Tim Pawlenty is a casualty of the Ames Straw Poll. Within hours of his third place finish, he was out of the race. That's a useful feature of the polls as well.
The most important aspect of Ames is that it provides insight into the minds of voters. In 2007, voters saw Romney as an alternative to the big government spending that preceded him in the Bush White House. Unfortunately, the United States enacted Obamacare, which is a scaled up version of Mitt Romey's health care plan for Massachusetts, since his last run. No wonder Romney decided to avoid competing in Iowa. He lost to a write-in candidate in the polling on Saturday.
Ron Paul's finish gives his campaign traction.
If the minds of voters can be read by Ames' results, here is what voters learned on Saturday.
- Ron Paul is a serious candidate with a chance to win.
- The Republican Party is deeply divided between the old-fashioned conservatives and a flourishing wing in favor of smaller government and personal freedom.
- Mitt Romney should call it a day and put his business experience to work creating jobs in the private sector.
- Michele Bachmann isn't going to win over independents and moderates.
It's clear that Ron Paul is now in the mix to win. Mike Huckabee was running a "personality cult" campaign to reach out to far-right members of the party and evangelicals. Ron Paul is running on an agenda to repair America and bring back promise for the future.
The Republican Party is divided. Not one Republican can imagine another four years of an Obama Presidency. But, do the voters go for the "same old" political pitch by candidates with checkered voting records, or go with a fresh approach that could limit government and expand personal freedoms? Ron Paul will help many answer that question.
Mitt Romney is finished. Rick Perry made sure of that on Saturday. Perry wasn't even on the ballot in Ames and he thumped Romney in vote totals. But that also spells good news for Ron Paul. A Romney exit before the New Hampshire primary would give Paul voters who are pro business but not evangelicals.
Michele Bachmann has her brand, and she's set politically, as long as she doesn't harbor real presidential ambitions. Winning by 200 votes against Paul in her own back yard isn't a ringing endorsement. She'll be a factor in the race, but she won't win it.
What's Next for the Paul campaign?
The strong showing in the straw poll will only enliven his supporters. As more people are exposed to his message, he'll gain momentum. Just like Huckabee, he's ensured his seat at the power brokers table in the next Republican National Convention. The party is better off for it.
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