Fourteen months before voters in the United States will choose a President in the general election, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, originally from Iowa, won a crucial early test of her popularity among Republicans. She placed first in the Iowa Straw Poll, a non-binding poll that does not officially influence the primary elections. Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished a close second.
Bachmann spent a significant amount of time and money crisscrossing the state of Iowa in the weeks leading up to the August 13 Iowa Straw Poll. That effort paid off for her, as she defeated front-runner, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Bachmann told the crowds that came to hear her speak: “You can always trust the judgment of an Iowan - you don’t spend money you don’t have!”
Speaking before enthusiastic supporters in the state of her birth, Bachmann restated a theme that resonated with voters on the campaign trail:
“For two months, I have been leading the charge in Washington against raising the debt ceiling. For a long period of time, I was the lone voice crying in the wilderness of Washington. Now Standard and Poors agrees with me… this wasn’t such a good idea.”
Just under seventeen thousand voters took part in the Straw Poll, open to all residents of Iowa who paid for a ticket. In the final tally, Bachmann, with 4,832 votes, narrowly defeated Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who came in second with 4,671 votes.
For Jeff Olsen, a teacher originally from Austin, Texas now living in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Bachmann’s win was no surprise: "It’s very understandable why she won. Being able to speak in those enthusiastic ten second soundbites. Being able to pretty much describe the problems that many Americans are facing in the attention span of less than ten seconds is going to curry favor.”
As voters filtered into the Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University to cast their ballots, news spread that Texas Governor Rick Perry was officially entering the race for the Republican nomination for President. His candidacy gives Olsen, originally from Texas, another choice when it comes time to vote in the Iowa Caucuses in early 2012. Olson said of Perry: “I think its another conservative voice. I think it’s another experienced politician. I think that had he put forth the organization and energy into an Iowa Straw Poll that a Bachmann or Ron Paul had, I think he would have been in the top two with them.”
Nate Crain, the national finance chairman for the Americans for Rick Perry political action committee says Perry’s absence from the Straw Poll won’t affect his standing with Iowa voters. Considering he did not campaign in Iowa, Perry finished with a respectable 718 write-in votes in the poll. Crain says Perry’s visit to Iowa after the Straw poll will be the first of many in the coming months: “He’ll do a lot of campaigning. He’ll want to reach out to Iowa voters because he’ll be participating in the Iowa caucus, and Iowa is obviously is the first state to vote, and he’ll reach out to Iowans just like everyone else does.”
Teacher Jeff Olsen is considering throwing his support behind Perry after the candidate he voted for finished poorly in the Straw Poll.
“I decided to vote for Newt Gingrich just because I think the most important issue facing America right now is to have a President who has a track record of balancing a budget, balancing a federal budget, and he certainly accomplished that as Speaker. Obviously I was in the minority.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich finished eighth with 385 votes. He did not campaign in Iowa as extensively as other candidates, and says his focus is on the Iowa Caucuses: “Our goal has been January, and frankly we are moving forward for January. We have some very strong people who are helping us, and we think that is going to dramatically broaden in September.”
With Perry’s candidacy, the political playing field for the Republican party is more crowded. In the coming days and weeks, candidates will compete for staff and money to continue their campaigns. Those who finished at the bottom of the Straw Poll could find themselves out of the picture before voters have a chance to cast the first ballot.