How the Debt Limit Fight Could Give Bachmann a Boost in Ames

At the Iowa State Fair, those planning to vote in the straw poll and others just having a pork cutlet were clear: the ceiling should not have been raised

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DES MOINES -- The lingering effect of the debt ceiling fight seems likely to be felt at the Ames straw poll Saturday, as anger over a nation perceived as living beyond its means suffused the comments of Iowans drawn to the Des Moines Register soapbox for presidential candidate speeches. But it came up, too, over and over in conversations with others around the fairgrounds, independents and Republicans alike, some of whom saw in President Obama's fiscal policies a continuation of the Bush-era profligacy they despised.

A frequently mentioned beneficiary of their sentiments? Michele Bachmann.

Jim Ritz, 69, said he was going to go to Ames to vote for Bachmann. "I just know whoever's following the line that we need to freeze our income and cut our spending is following my line," said the Des Moines resident, who was sitting on a bench after listening to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty speak at the fair. "All along I said I don't care if we go into default, I'd like to see them live within their means....The sooner they get the budget balanced, the sooner they're going to get it upgraded. If I spend more than I take in, my budget wouldn't be in good shape either."

Ronald Van Genderen, 70, of Monroe, Iowa, and William DePorte of Council Bluffs were talking about it earlier in the day, after former business executive Herman Cain left the hay bales of the stage to head out onto the concourse.

"Obama, he stretched this budget thing. Don't you have to balance your own house? Come on, you can't just keep putting it on a credit card," Van Genderen, a "semi-retired" cattle and hog farmer wearing a John Deere cap, said.

That's one reason he said he'd be backing the House Tea Party Caucus founder at the straw poll, he said. "Palin, if she don't run, it'll be Bachmann."

DePorte, for his part, says he'll back "the first one that says, 'Get a roommate if you can't pay your mortgage.' Duh!"

Rick and Jerri Bittner of Oskaloosa are both independents and said they probably weren't going to vote at the straw poll. They were surprised and pleased when Pawlenty sat down with them in the Iowa Pork Producer's tent where they were having lunch after Mary Pawlenty learned the Bittners had a son who'd just returned from service in Afghanistan. They're not sure who they would back in 2012, but when it comes to the Republican candidates, "they're all at least talking about the same thing," Rick Bittner said. The budget, "it does need to get balanced."

Chimed in Jerri Bittner, "Yah. It's a good thing to talk about. They gotta get control of it before it gets too far out of line."

"They need to lower it," added Rick. "Like Ross Perot said years ago, government should run like a business. If it ain't got the money, don't spend it."

Back at the soapbox, Fred Dailey was passing through from West Virginia. His interest this cycle was taking back America, "not just from Obama, from Obama and Bush and everyone who's made our government too big." A retired environmental engineer who once worked for GE, he and his wife wore matching T-shirts that read, "You Are Not Entitled to What I Have Earned."

The country needs "a Balanced Budget Amendment and not to spend more than they take in. And if that means I have to give up some of my Social Security, so be it," he said.

Curious if the soapbox was drawing a particular type, I headed over to the Agriculture Building to see the famous butter cow and interview folks coming off the line there -- perhaps a more representative sample. Sure enough, I found of a handful of Des Moines Democrats with different views. "I'm kind of on a balanced approach side and I'm kind of upset with everybody involved," said Drew Selim, 31, an AV tech from the city. Richard White, a retired engineer and and independent, said the fight was "nothing new." Things just cost more these days so of course the limit had to go up, he said. "Every president who comes in has to do it."

But back at the soapbox, supporters were predicting a Bachmann victory in Ames thanks, in part, to her leadership in the fight against raising the debt ceiling limit. "She led the fight and every other candidate followed her on that," said Ryan Rhodes, the founder and chairman of the Iowa tea party who on Tuesday endorsed her for the straw poll. "She's shifting the terms of the debate" and forcing other candidates to commit to her positions, he observed. Those may not be legislative results, but he's certain legislation will soon flow from the changes in views she's bringing about.

"I think Michele's going to win," he said.

Image credit: REUTERS/Daniel Acker

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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