Bachmann, a U.S. representative from Minnesota, has set an early June deadline for deciding whether she’ll formally enter the presidential race. Asked about her straw poll strategy, Bachmann said in a telephone interview with The Des Moines Register: “What we plan to do is have a strong presence in Iowa. … We need to let people in Iowa who aren’t familiar with my background know I am one with them.”
Bachmann is anti-establishment with tea party street cred, but so are Ron Paul and Herman Cain. She’s a strong social conservative who can appeal to the home-school network, but Rick Santorum and others will be targeting that group, too. She hammers away at spending and the debt, but every Republican in Iowa will bang that gavel.
Asked how she can pull ahead at the straw poll, Bachmann said she thinks her deep roots in Iowa as well as her history of fighting for one-man-one-woman marriage, taking unwed mothers under her wing to prevent abortions, and taking on both Republicans and Democrats on spending issues will seal her popularity with Iowans.
Campaign manager Andy Parrish predicted that if Bachmann enters the race, she would have little trouble engaging the grass roots in rapid-fire fashion to come to Ames for her. Historically, he said, “she fills the room and then some.”
Retired business executive Herman Cain of Georgia has received gushing reaction to his speeches in Iowa and to his performance in the nationally televised Republican debate in South Carolina May 5. His staff didn’t respond to questions about his straw poll strategy.
Cain, whose executive experience includes positions with Godfather’s Pizza, Pillsbury and Burger King, is expected to announce his decision regarding a presidential campaign Saturday in Atlanta. The day before, he’s scheduled to headline a Pottawattamie County fundraiser.
Gingrich, a historian, author and former speaker of the U.S. House, officially announced his candidacy on Wednesday, the first major Republican candidate to do so. Gingrich, known as a policy wonk who’s a font of ideas, recently converted to Catholicism. He has made 10 trips to Iowa in the past year, and has been wooing Iowa’s evangelical Christians.
Iowans will see Gingrich in Ames Aug. 13, said Craig Schoenfeld, Gingrich’s Iowa campaign director.
The straw poll “can be somewhat of a barometer of what the caucus is going to look like,” Schoenfeld said. “There’s different strategies and different tactics, but there’s a role for it (the straw poll), and it’s a good time for Republicans in Iowa not only to hear the different candidates, but to take the national spotlight.”
Pawlenty, whose childhood was shaped by life in a blue-collar Minnesota meatpacking town and the death of his mother at 16, is campaigning extensively here. His audiences have called him well-spoken and embraced his generalist message. Since the former two-term Minnesota governor announced a presidential exploratory committee on March 21 (the first major Republican to do so), Pawlenty has hired an all-star lineup of Iowa operatives.
Eric Woolson, a longtime Iowa strategist who is guiding Pawlenty’s campaign here, said: “Any presidential candidate who plans to compete in the Iowa caucuses must be able to earn real support of voters at the Republican Party of Iowa straw poll in Ames because that’s how this process works. Governor Pawlenty respects and values that process, and that’s why he’s been traveling our state to introduce himself to Iowans. He’ll continue to work hard over the next three months to let Iowans know about his record and what he stands for, and he’s looking forward to the straw poll.”
Paul, a 12-term Texas U.S. representative who received a skeptical brush-off from the Iowa Republican establishment when he ran four years ago, said people are much more receptive to his libertarian message today.
Paul told the Register his goal is to finish first in the straw poll, but the top four “would be great.”
“The 13th is a lucky day for me,” he said. “I think the enthusiasm and the support in the organization is going to be so much stronger (than four years ago). But not only that, it’s the conditions of the country are so much different when it comes to the economy, the foreign policy, the debt problem and the frustration and the anger with the people.”
David Fischer, vice chairman of his Iowa team, said, “Clearly, we don’t have the money of a Mitt Romney. But we do have thousands of passionate supporters, and we are assembling a team of experienced and campaign-tested professionals that will help Ron Paul maximize his potential and be competitive in Iowa, both in Ames and on caucus night.”
The two-term former senator from Pennsylvania has not yet moved past the exploratory committee stage, but if he runs, he will make Iowa – the straw poll and caucuses – his focus, said John Brabender, senior adviser to the Santorum campaign.
“Rick Santorum has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate,” Brabender said. “That is our strategy. Clearly the families in Iowa expect candidates to be there. They expect to kick the tires.”
Santorum talks about the economy, debt and other issues, but he highlights his record against abortion.
“Anybody that would suggest that we should call a truce on the moral issues doesn’t understand what America’s all about,” Santorum said at the South Carolina debate, referring to a remark last year by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. “We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. Rights come from God and the first of them is life.”
Looking for signs: Are they running?
Several big name Republicans haven’t committed to running, let alone discussing straw poll plans. Backers are trying to entice them to join the race and are organizing support.
A team of prominent Iowa Republicans will fly out to meet with the first-term governor May 31 in an attempt to persuade him to run. They have been impressed with his work to cut spending and his no-holds-barred style. But Christie has repeatedly said he’s not interested in running for president.
Top Republicans, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, have heaped praise on Daniels, the governor of Indiana, and said they hope he runs for president. Daniels, who has said he thinks he’d have a good chance of beating President Obama, is considering a decision. He’s a former pharmaceutical executive known for eliminating collective bargaining for state employees and successfully pushing education reform. His plan will allow Indiana students within a certain income range to use school vouchers to attend private schools of their parents’ choice. He alarmed some social conservatives last year by calling for a truce on social issues, a comment he has said was partly aimed at liberals.
It’s unclear whether Palin, a former governor of Alaska, has any intentions of running. An email to a spokesman for SarahPAC went unanswered.
Supporters are keeping their hopes up. North Carolina home-schooling mom Karen Allen, founder of Organize4Palin, told the Register: “If we consider Governor Palin’s criteria for running for president, which was if she didn’t see anyone else who could bring to the table what she could and be willing to make those hard decisions we as a country must come to terms with, then it appears to us that a 2012 Palin campaign is inevitable.”
Organize4Palin is not connected to Palin or her political action committee. Volunteer regional directors and county teams are “intensively” working to organize in Iowa, said Organize4Palin’s Iowa leader, Peter Singleton, who has been scouting for Palin fans here since November. “I consider the other guys pretty formidable. They have lots of money and lots of skilled operatives and the like, but I think they’re underestimating her grass-roots base here in Iowa.” Palin was last in Iowa on Dec. 2, as part of a 16-city book tour that ended in South Carolina, another early-decision state.
Name ID is half the battle in political elections, and Iowa Republicans say no one in their lineup can top Trump, a New York City real estate mogul and reality TV star. Trump has made no official steps toward a presidential bid, restricted by his television show “Celebrity Apprentice.” But an announcement is expected at the end of May, and he will likely set an attendance record at the Iowa Republican Party fundraiser June 10.
His adviser, Michael Cohen, declined to answer questions last week about Trump’s straw poll strategy, but Trump told the Register in mid-April: “I will make Iowa a major focus of my campaign.” Iowa insiders said he could sweep up straw poll support from Iowans who simply like his conservative message or are infatuated with his celebrity status.
Notables who might skip the event
Mitt Romney already has a strong Iowa network. Neither he nor Jon Huntsman appeals strongly to social conservatives. They might skirt the straw poll and invest more efforts in other early decision states.
After resigning his post as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China earlier this month, Huntsman speedily embarked on a testing-the-waters effort, raising money, hiring political staff and scheduling speeches in South Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire. A spokesman for the former Utah governor has said Huntsman will decide whether to run for president by early summer, but wouldn’t say whether he intends to visit Iowa. Iowa Republicans said if he rides the economy wave and promotes his trade and managerial expertise, he could attract independent voters and give Obama a run for his money.
Aides for Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and the presumed national front-runner, wouldn’t reveal to the Register whether he’ll a) make a hard push for the straw poll, b) campaign little here but show up to give a speech in Ames, or c) skip the event altogether.
Romney went all out in 2007: He bought the best location for his tent, catered a barbecue lunch and chartered a fleet of buses to bring in supporters. That paid off in the short-term – he won the straw poll – but not in the long run.
He’s expected to campaign some in Iowa (he makes his first 2011 visit on May 27), but to focus much less attention than last time.
Iowa Republicans noted that when Romney announced his exploratory committee on April 11, he did so via video from New Hampshire.
Some lesser-known potential candidates have made several Iowa visits, but their straw poll intentions are not yet clear.
Karger, an longtime Republican activist from California who is openly gay, has campaigned in Iowa for a more moderate Republican Party. He has focused on college campuses, where he tosses “Fred Frisbees” to students. He told the Register he’s still weighing whether to participate in the straw poll. “A lot will depend on fundraising,” he said.
Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, is an outdoor adventurer who has climbed Mount Everest and ridden RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Johnson, who announced his candidacy on April 21 in New Hampshire, favors pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, legalizing marijuana, abortion rights and gay marriage rights. Emails to his staff asking about his straw poll intentions went unanswered.
Moore, who was ousted from Alabama’s supreme court in 2003 for ignoring a federal judge’s order to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse, announced on April 18 that he intended to form a presidential exploratory committee. Family Leader lobbyist Danny Carroll is Moore’s lead Iowa contact. Asked about a straw poll strategy, Carroll said: “The straw poll is significant, of course. It will be difficult for any candidate to do well in February if they do poorly in August.”
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