DES MOINES, Iowa -- This post is named in honor of the featured treat Rep. Michelle Bachmann plans to feed supporters who stop by her tent on the grounds of the Iowa GOP’s straw poll Saturday: a meat sundae. It’s described as a pile of meat (the campaign did not disclose what type, but beef is apparently a common choice) on top of mashed potatoes, all of it covered in rich gravy that is “chocolate” in color and sour cream, with a cherry tomato on top.
Bachmann’s campaign is well organized, so presumably they’ll have a defibrillator on hand in Ames as well. Every vote counts.
Most presidential debates are, let’s face it, kind of boring. Not Thursday night’s. Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Minnesotan, went at it like a couple of scorpions in a confined place. Bachmann has surged in the polls, pushing Pawlenty into a do-or-die situation in Iowa. His campaign advisers have said it would be tough to move forward without a strong performance at the straw poll Saturday, as donors want to see proof of life before investing.
The consensus is that Bachmann did well. She had to defend her record and qualifications to be president from stinging attacks on both, and proved she could take the heat with both smiles and counter-punches. Standing right next to her, Pawlenty accused her of “a record misstatements” and of “making false statements,” and mocked her claims to have been the leader of the fight against raising the debt ceiling and against President Obama’s health-care law. She retorted that Pawlenty had governed like Obama, citing his expressions of support for “cap and trade” carbon emission limits and a government mandate that individuals buy health insurance.
There were gasps from the audience when Byron York, a conservative columnist on the journalists’ panel, asked Bachmann about her vow to be “submissive” to her husband, in keeping with several passages of the New Testament. How would that work in the Oval Office? Bachmann took a deep breath, and let it be known she’d be the decider. “What submission means to us…it means respect,” Bachmann said.
The verdict on Pawlenty’s performance was mixed. On one hand, he was aggressive, unlike in earlier debates when he couldn’t pull the trigger. He also came across to some viewers as hectoring. It was Minnesota Ice, a bipolar departure from his usual mellow nice guy demeanor. “He looked like a guy doing what his consultants told him to do,” cracked a strategist for another candidate.
Ron Paul: A lot of people in Iowa think he has a very good chance of winning the straw poll and that worries them. That’s because, with a devoted cadre of supporters, the libertarian congressman from Texas kills in straw polls all over the nation. If he wins in Ames, the media will write it off as the same-old-same-old and dismiss the event as meaningless. Now, the shortcomings of the straw poll are well known: it’s a fundraiser for the state GOP, candidates have to pay to participate, and voters have to pay to cast votes, though the campaigns usually buy their tickets. It’s a representative sample of … not much, but it’s a lot of fun and it has served to winnow out weaker candidates the summer before the actual Iowa caucuses. A Paul win, insiders say, would be a further blow to the straw poll’s prestige.
Of course there’s been a lot of talk about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will step on the straw poll with his announcement in South Carolina Saturday that he is entering the presidential race. Iowa pols are not happy. Rep. Steve King (R.,Iowa), a conservative leader, said that the timing is about Perry’s “strategy to diminish the straw poll.” The governor is swooping into Iowa on Sunday, going to Waterloo, where Bachmann kicked off her own campaign in June.
“To turn around the next day [and come here to Iowa and go to the very town and the very building where Michele Bachmann was raised and announced her candidacy – that’s a pretty strong statement,” King told reporters. “That’s not going to be considered subtle here in Iowa. That might be subtle in Texas, but it ain’t subtle in Iowa.”
For Perry, it’s a can’t-lose move. It’s late for him to build the kind of ground organization needed for the caucuses (now scheduled for February) anyway, and he’s going to be the southern candidate. South Carolina will likely be his strongest early-voting state.