Those watching the Republican presidential field take shape this weekend saw a massive shudder in the landscape.
Thursday’s Republican debate had Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann sparring with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Texas Representative Ron Paul cheered by the audience, and former front-runner Mitt Romney taking a backseat. All not too surprising, but since then, Pawlenty has quit the race, Bachmann won the August 13 Ames Straw Poll, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who did not participate in the debate but cleverly spent the weekend milking press coverage, has thrown his conservative hat into the ring. Now, there’s a new race shaping up: The only question now it, who’s in it?
- Michele Bachmann 4,823 votes
- Ron Paul 4,617 votes
- Tim Pawlenty 2,293 votes
- Rick Santorum 1,657 votes
- Herman Cain 1,465 votes
- Rick Perry 718 votes (as a write-in)
- Mitt Romney 567 votes
- Newt Gingrich 385 votes
- Jon Huntsman 69 votes
- Thad McCotter 35 votes
- The importance of the debate and the poll. Commentators are divided on the importance of both the debate and the poll. Despite Michael Barone’s claim, writing at conservative journal National Review Online, that Thursday’s debate was no game-changer – spirited, sure, but nothing unexpected – it was at least enough to convince Ames Straw Poll voters that Pawlenty was a non-starter. The Ames Straw Poll is a poll taken by Iowa Republicans, usually in August, and it’s considered a pretty solid indicator of how the state’s Republicans will vote in the later caucus, itself an indicator of who will snag the countrywide nomination. But, argued Michael Crowley at TIME’s Swampland blog, “[I]n its five prior installments [the straw poll] hasn’t been very predictive of the ultimate GOP nominee.” Moreover, Romney declined to appear on the ballot, as did Perry, who hadn’t yet declared at the time of the poll, and wild card Sarah Palin, who is spending a lot of time campaigning for someone who hasn’t declared yet. So who knows, really, what the straw poll actually means? That said, it was important enough to Pawlenty, who turned the straw poll into an absolute indicator of his potential success: A distant third, he concluded that he had no chance.
- Tim Pawlenty. TPaw, as the Minnesota governor affectionately referred to himself, had the makings of a great Republican candidate, Toby Harnden claimed in The Telegraph: A good Christian, a good conservative, and a likeable guy genuinely admired in his own party. He recruited a solid staff, worked hard, and seemed on track – however, said Harnden, not only did Pawlenty fall victim to some bad luck, but he also became mired in his “Mr. Nice” image. When it came time to attack Romney, his biggest challenger, he demurred; in Iowa, however, he decided to go after Bachmann and though he made an effective case against her, he came off as “mean and petty” on what was basically her own turf. “Alas, with hindsight it is apparent that Pawlenty was probably always destined to play a supporting role in 2012,” concluded Harnden.
- Bachmann, Perry and Romney. “The Republican nomination race has suddenly metamorphosed from a snooze fest into a three-way smack down with a fascinating cast of characters,” declared Jill Lawrence at The Daily Beast. “Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, two aggressive, charismatic religious conservatives, will spend the next few months vying for values voters and the role of chief alternative to Mitt Romney. As for Romney, the econo-centric envoy from the Eastern establishment, he’s about to be forced off the sidelines by a pair with hair as good as his.” Certainly, Perry’s spectacular entrance of into the race has changed the landscape considerably: Though Bachmann may have won the Ames Straw Poll, noted Mike Murphy at TIME’s Swampland blog, it was Perry’s declaration that really dominated headlines. “With Perry in the race, there is another fiery conservative candidate drenched with Tea Party hot sauce now on the Iowa political menu. Unless the Perry for President campaign blows up on the launch pad — which is indeed possible when a candidate runs on the national stage for the first time — the Texan will give Bachmann a run for her money in Iowa.” Murphy also agreed with Lawrence: It’s Romney who stands to really lose by Perry’s run.
God in the politics: Bachmann and Perry are Christian conservatives, as is trailing candidate Rick Santorum – but does God still count in American politics?
- Ron Paul. But Lawrence’s assessment discounts the rise of Paul, the 11-term libertarian-leaning Republican representative who scored some surprising points during the debate and came up second in the Ames Straw Poll. Could a guy from Texas – and not that other guy from Texas, Perry – scoop up the nomination? Maybe, said Andrew Malcolm, writing at The Los Angeles Times’s Top of the Ticket blog. “Once upon a time the libertarian-like Paul was considered a fringe candidate. He still is,” said Malcolm. “The trouble for mainstream Republicans is that Paul’s devoted disciples just keep on carving out apparent victories for the kindly old guy, whose son Rand is now a U.S. senator from Kentucky…. This time Paul has more organization on the ground in Iowa and a lot more unhappy people than in 2008.”
- Obama. With the Republican race shaping up into well, whatever, President Barack Obama is reportedly lining up his counteroffensive, according to the Associated Press. His numbers sliding, Republicans using him as a punching bag, and some Democrats wishing that it were Hillary Clinton at the helm, not him, Obama is setting off on a bust tour of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois this week. Said the AP, “The trip is timed to dilute the GOP buzz emanating from the Midwest after Republicans gathered in Iowa over the weekend for a first test of the party’s White House candidates.”
If the GOP race is any indicator, the 2012 election is going to be nuts