Iowa's Straw-Poll Suicide: Ames Now Irrelevant

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With Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul leading the Ames Straw Poll and Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain next -- ahead of Rick Perry and Mitt Romney -- only the local buttermilk cows should be holding their heads high.

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Daniel Acker, Reuters

Sometimes Iowa picks 'em -- and some times not.  Today NOT. 

In the GOP-sort out straw poll held in Ames, Iowa, Tea Party diva Michele Bachmann bested libertarian favorite Ron Paul as the winner.  But more importantly, no one in the top 5 had any real chance of leading a 2012 GOP ticket.  Iowa is making itself irrelevant in the hard political choice department.

When Michele Bachmann performed well above expectations in the first Republican presidential candidate debate, she destroyed Sarah Palin's chances for the GOP nod.  With Texas Governor Rick Perry's lethally-timed announcement of his candidacy, he has wrecked any real hope Bachmann had of spending time in the political sunlight.  She never could have clinched the title.

But what this straw poll really says something about is the State of the GOP in the State of Iowa.  This straw poll result shows that a group of people are willing to place bets on people who have virtually no chance of really winning on a national ticket.  My view anyway.

Let's look back at butter cow territory history and see what Ames has produced in the past.

In the first straw poll in 1979, most of the straws went to the Kennebunkport-sculpted George H.W. Bush.  Ronald Reagan came in 2nd.  Both of these guys were legitimate, possible contenders for the top GOP slot, and the Ames poll did what it was supposed to do -- tried to sort out for a Iowan Republicans a serious choice.  While Bush did not win the nomination ultimately, he was the real thing.

In 1983, no straw poll was needed as the GOP was solidly behind Reagan's reelection.

In 1987, Pat Robertson who often blames the gays, or feminists, or anyone of a religion other than his own for big natural or unnatural disasters -- as he did after 9/11 -- won the most straws.  So, like Bachmann today -- Ames produced an unlikely candidate, someone who really had no chance of winning nationally.  BUT, the #2 slot went to Bob Dole -- who while he didn't win, was someone who legitimately could have won the presidency.  At least Ames got the equation half right.

In 1995, Bob Dole and Phil Gramm won.  Dole again was the real thing -- and while I'm sure I'll get hate mail for this, Gramm was also someone, in certain circumstances and with better organization, could have eventually won the presidency.  Problem was that Phil Gramm got in his own way.  Still, Ames was on a steady, reasoned course that year and the outcome made sense.

In 1999, George W. Bush -- the man everyone wanted to hang out at a barbecue with (or many folks anyway) -- swept the straw poll.  "W" won the presidency -- so that was a real vote of confidence for Ames.  Steve Forbes, who I believe never was a real national-level option, placed 2nd -- illustrating yet again Iowa's penchant for hanging together a real possibility for president along with a pipe dream candidate.

In August 2007, Romney took the straws with Mike Huckabee closely following.  Again, from my personal vantage point, both of these were legitimate candidates and could have won nationally.  In fact, if he were running today, I think Huckabee would probably have kept Rick Perry from having the space to get in the race and Bachmann would not have risen to the level she recently had.

But something has gone wrong in Iowa.  First place to Michele Bachmann -- someone I feel is not a real contender.  Second place to Ron Paul -- who while being the libertarian movement's most loved spear-carrier -- also has no chance of winning nationally.  And then 3rd went to Tim Pawlenty, who was momentarily a national possibility but whose chances cratered after the first GOP debate not to improve since.  4th place went to Rick Santorum -- not a real possibility at a national level. 

Shall I go on?  The anti-Muslim Herman Cain, all but out of the race, came in 5th. 

Then in 6th and 7th came Rick Perry and Mitt Romney -- who probably are going to be the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of this next GOP primary contest.  They were the ones that needed some sorting out in Ames -- but the straw poll ducked them rather than milk the situation (sorry, couldn't help).

What does this say about Ames?  About Iowa in general?  About the butter milk cow centennial anniversary?

Well, at least tomorrow the buttermilk pancakes will still be great.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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