There have been a couple of interesting news pieces written this week, one of which ran in the New York Times today, that pointed out how many political observers will be watching the performance of Rep. Ron Paul in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday to see if he can translate his Internet support into people casting a ballot in person. Dr. Paul is seemingly at a disadvantage because he doesn’t believe in the practice of giving out free tickets to his supporters to the Iowa straw poll in Ames, but some of the other campaigns including Sam Brownback and Mitt Romney have been buying tickets by the thousands and giving them away to supporters.

However, the Ames straw poll is really just a fundraiser for the state’s Republican Party. The rules for the poll are very loose. Once a person either has a ticket, or pays their $35 entry fee, they can vote for anyone they want. This means that although the Paul campaign only purchased the minimum requirement of 800 tickets, Rep. Paul could have a much better showing if he supporters are able to take advantage of his competitors’ generosity. As the New York Times story pointed out, the Romney campaign is providing a free ticket and bus service to the poll, so an industrious Paul supporter created a flier and posted in Iowa and on the Internet. In part the flier said, “Some say if Mitt is willing to bus Iowans to Ames for the straw poll, they should take him up on his offer!”

The Iowa straw poll may not count towards electing the next president, but a poor showing can force a candidate out of the race. In 1999, four Republicans dropped out of the race after doing poorly in the straw poll, and this year Tommy Thompson has already vowed to quit the race if he does poorly tomorrow. The current edition of the straw poll is seriously weakened by the fact that John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani all declined to participate. All indications are that there is a strong possibility that Mitt Romney might be a run away winner tomorrow, but it will be interesting to see if the guerrilla style grassroots effort of the Paul supporters can lead him to a respectable showing. If Paul finishes 4-6 that would represent a good showing for him, and even the campaign itself is stressing that they would be happy with a middle of the pack finish.

Mitt Romney is looking to use the straw poll as proof that he is for real. Tancredo, Duncan, and Thompson need something positive to keep them in the race. Candidates like Huckabee and Brownback are looking for momentum to break away from the pack, but a strong showing by Ron Paul would go a long way towards silencing the critics who think of his campaign as an Internet novelty act. I consider the Iowa straw poll kind of like reality TV. It is fun to watch, but it doesn’t really bear much of a resemblance to an actual election. I think campaigns get too hung up on it, and spend way more money than they should for something that doesn’t count, but Ron Paul is in a good position here. The expectations are low, so if he does anything at all, he will generate a bit more media buzz for his campaign. He really has everything to gain and nothing to lose on Saturday.

 NY Times story  

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
 

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