A Day at the Straw Poll

Representative Ron Paul addresses supporters at the Ames Straw Poll.
Dr. Paul is on the covered stage at center left.  (Photo by author.)

After months of planning and hard work the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames is finally over.  I spent the day there and, although the results weren’t exactly what I wanted, it was time well spent.

The day began early as myself and some local Ron Paul supporters boarded a bus provided by the campaign in Anamosa.  Fourteen of us got on at Anamosa and the bus already had about that many on it from Maquoketa.  One septuagenarian that got on with us told me that his daughter had chided him for not riding with her group on the Michele Bachmann bus.  He said that he told her that he wanted to ride with “the young people.”

That might be a bit of an overgeneralization of Ron Paul’s supporters, since they run the gamut, but Dr. Paul certainly does have more young and energetic followers than the others.  I’m betting that our bus had more examples of tattoos and body-piercings than, say, a typical Rick Santorum bus.  It’s somewhat ironic that 76-year-old R.P., the oldest candidate in the race, would have so many young supporters.  My theory on why is because younger Americans have been so immersed in commercial media their whole lives that they can tell the difference between when they are being talked to and when they are being marketed to.  R.P. just says what he thinks while other candidates spout poll-tested platitudes designed to elicit the desired response (a vote).

As soon as the bus arrived at the ISU campus (where the Straw Poll takes place) a Ron Paul campaign staffer escorted our group up to the voting area and everyone voted.  After that we were free to enjoy the festivities.  Ron Paul’s area was in the prime location in the central courtyard next to Hilton Coliseum.  He had a stage with bands playing, games for the kids (including a dunk tank featuring someone in a Ben Bernanke mask getting dunked), and barbecue and hot dogs being served.  I even spent an hour or so helping hand out pop and water to the thirsty crowd at Dr. Paul’s beverage tent.

For once the campaign of the candidate I was supporting had all the bells and whistles and I didn’t seem to be in the minority.  People in R.P. t-shirts where everywhere, seemingly outnumbering all other supporters.

Besides all of the candidates, various groups such as Strong America Now, NRA, and Us Against Alzheimer’s had booths or tents set up.  High on my to-do list was to stop by the Iowa Gun Owners booth and get myself an IGO t-shirt.  However, due to high demand, they were out by the time I made it to their booth.  I guess I’ll have to order one on their website.

Our group waited around as long as we could to hear the results of the Straw Poll but eventually had to go catch our bus home.  On the ride home the news came in on cell phones that Ron Paul had came in a close second behind Michele Bachmann.  The final results looked like this (Votes, %):

1. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (4823, 28.55%)

2. Congressman Ron Paul (4671, 27.65%)

3. Governor Tim Pawlenty (2293, 13.57%)

4. Senator Rick Santorum (1657, 9.81%)

5. Herman Cain(1456, 8.62%)

6. Governor Rick Perry (718, 3.62%) write-in

7. Governor Mitt Romney (567, 3.36%)

8. Speaker Newt Gingrich (385, 2.28%)

9. Governor Jon Huntsman (69, 0.41%)

10. Congressman Thad McCotter (35, 0.21%)

Scattering (218, 1.30 %) Includes all those receiving votes at less than one-percent that were not on the ballot.

While Bachmann won the Straw Poll fair-and-square, we Paulistas can console ourselves with a few thoughts:

  1. It ain’t the caucus.  The straw poll is non-binding test of campaign strength primarily used as a fund-raiser for the Iowa GOP.  Hopefully the Paul campaign used it to identify their strengths and weaknesses and will put this information to good use winning the Iowa Caucus.
  2. It was darned close!  Only 152 votes (0.9%) separated Dr. Paul from the first place finisher.  If Ron Paul had won by just a fraction of a percent (as Bachmann did), you can bet the press would be playing up what a squeaker the win was.
  3. He did darned good!  Ron Paul’s second place vote total was higher than Mitt Romney’s first place vote total in 2007 and was the fourth highest vote total in Straw Poll history.  He won a higher percentage of the Straw Poll vote than the eventual caucus winner in three of the past four election cycles (including Mike Huckabee’s 18.1%).
  4. Bachmann gave away more free tickets.  While most Ron Paul supporters like myself had to pay (a discounted price) for our tickets into the Straw Poll, his campaign did buy give away 4,750 tickets for free.  Bachmann’s campaign, by contrast, gave away 6,000 freebies.  There’s nothing underhanded about that, it’s just easier to pack the house with free tickets to a free meal than a discounted price.  Ron Paul supporters mostly had to pay to vote for him and he still almost won.

Anyway, Straw Poll down.  Next stop: The Iowa Caucus.

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