Washington's pretty quiet right now. All the action is in Iowa—a Republican debate was held last night at Iowa State University, many of the candidates have taken a turn at the "soapbox" at the State Fair in Des Moines this week, and Saturday the Ames Straw Poll takes place. On Sunday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, which Rep. Michele Bachmann just announced she'll be addressing as well. Sarah Palin is in the Hawkeye State in her bus, and the president's bus tour arrives on Tuesday as well.
Last night's debate at Iowa State was great fun. Lots of laughs, pretty entertaining. Tough questions from the moderators. Much better than that ludicrous Twitter debate a few weeks ago. If you want to put it in terms from a high school yearbook, the winners would be:
- Mr. Congeniality: Herman Cain. He's charm city.
- Most likely to succeed: Mitt Romney. No one knocked him out of first place.
- Biggest Disappointment: Jon Huntsman. Nervous, didn't have an economic plan.
- MVP: Tim Pawlenty. Gave the rest a blueprint for rebutting Bachmann.
- Most popular, at least with the college-age Cyclones in the audience: Rep. Ron Paul.
As I watched, I kept thinking about the one candidate who wasn't on the stage—and I'm not referring to the mysterious absence of Michele Bachmann after one of the commercial breaks, when they had to wait for her to get back onstage. (Rookie mistake.) She survived several zingers from fellow candidates and the moderators, but that's about all you can say. She didn't win it hands down, as she did in the last debate. Two words she seemed to repeat constantly: "fighter" and "non-negotiable." As she kept talking about her sponsorship of the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, I couldn't pelp but think how Rick Perry could have been going after Obama on lack of experience (Perry's the longest serving governor in the United States right now, more than Romney and Pawlenty can say): he has a good record job creation in Texas (USA Today headline last month: "Need a job? Move to Texas."), and didn't propose healthcare reform in his state like Mitt Romney did. His entering the race hurts Romney and Bachmann the most, because he can carry both fiscal and social conservatives at the same time. As William F. Buckley would say, right now he's the most conservative candidate who can win. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
As for the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday, keep in mind that Mitt Romney won it in 2008. Although three of the last five Straw Poll winners have gone on to win the GOP nomination—George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush—last year's winner did not (Romney won the Straw Poll and Huckabee won the Iowa caucus, and neither won the GOP nomination.) It's more likely that we'll hear more about the losers than the winner this time. In the past, candidates such as Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and Tommy Thompson dropped out the day after the straw poll. Within a month of it, Elizabeth Dole and Pat Buchanan had exited their Republican races, too. If they don't do well on Saturday, we may have seen the last of Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty last night.
I think the winner of the Straw Poll will probably be drowned out by everything else going on right now in Iowa, from Rick Perry's entering the race to Sarah Palin's bus tour to the president's visit to even the sold-out Jason Aldean concert tonight at the State Fair. Did you hear they're serving deep-fried butter on a stick at the fair this year too—in the August heat, how does that work? The last time I went, it was the year of the deep-fried Snickers bar, which drew large crowds. It's a big weekend in the Hawkeye State. Wish I was there.