The Ames GOP Straw Poll: A Postmortem

by on August 11th, 2007

Here are the official vote percentages from the Ames Republican Presidential Straw Poll:

1. Mitt Romney — 31.6%

2. Mike Huckabee — 18.1%

3. Sam Brownback — 15.3%

4. Tom Tancredo — 13.7%

5. Ron Paul — 9.1%

6. Tommy Thompson — 7.3%

7. Fred Thompson — 1.4%

8. Rudy Giuliani — 1.3%

9. Duncan Hunter — 1.2%

10. John McCain — 0.7%

11. John Cox — 0.3%


Mitt Romney got the win he wanted, although it could be said that his margin of victory should have been higher, considering the fact that his three major rivals sat it out. Whatever the case, barring any kind of major misstep or monumental collapse on his part in the next five months, this win makes him an even more prohibitive favorite to win the Iowa Caucuses in January. Even though his numbers are still not very impressive in national polls, he’s still solidly ahead in New Hampshire as well. His obvious strategy is to win both of those key early states, regardless of his current national standing. One must go back to 1972 to find the last major party candidate (Edmund Muskie) who failed to capture his party’s presidential nomination, despite winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. I’m sure Romney is quite aware of this fact.

Mike Huckabee was the big winner of the night. His second place finish seemed to surprise even the candidate himself. He spent less than Sam Brownback but still edged Brownback out for the social conservative vote. Huckabee now needs to take the momentum he will obviously gain and use it to start raising more money.

Though finishing solidly in third place, Brownback has to be disappointed that his main rival, Huckabee, finished ahead of him. It’s hard to see how Brownback will be able to claim a niche from this point on, as Huckabee now seems to have claimed the mantle of social conservative champion. However, don’t look for Brownback to drop out any time soon.

Tom Tancredo’s double-digit, fourth-place finish has to be a moral victory for him. He is near the bottom in almost every national and state poll of likely GOP primary and caucus voters, usually coming in at no more than one or two percent. However, his strong anti-immigration rhetoric apparently caught fire with many straw poll goers. Now he needs to get voters outside the borders of the Hawkeye State to pay him some attention.

Ron Paul was hoping to finish higher than fifth, but that’s much better than he’s doing in most polls right now. Although he has small cells of rabid support in every state, he’ll need to improve his organizational ability between now and January if he hopes to be competitive in the real Iowa Caucuses.

This is probably the end of the road for Tommy Thompson. He spent a lot of his resources on this straw poll and had banked on finishing at least third. In addition, he has visited Iowa more than any other candidate and is the only GOP contender from a neighboring state (Wisconsin). His message has just not caught on and he will likely exit the race very soon.

Duncan Hunter, on the other hand, will likely hang on indefinitely. However, finishing behind two candidates who didn’t even participate in the event just shores up his status as an also-ran who is just along for the ride.

I believe Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson will all rue the day they decided to skip the straw poll. For one thing, the Iowa Republican Party will likely blame their absence for the fact that the turnout, which many had projected would be between 35,000 and 50,000, was just over 14,000. That was much lower than the 23,000 who participated in the event in 1999. It also allowed Romney to solidify his stronghold on the state and opened the door for Huckabee to move up — at their expense. Any possibility that one of them can stop Romney in Iowa has likely gone out the window. They now must pin their hopes on New Hampshire to stop Romney’s momentum.

Terry Mitchell