Monday, August 15, 2011

NotSerious campaiging

Of the many threads of discourse on the results of the Ames Iowa straw poll, there are two that contradict each other entirely.  One is that the straw poll is a poor predictor of success in the nomination game and the other is that Pawlenty had to do well in the straw poll to be viable.

The first is based on history.  While there was a poll in 1979, it was a minor event with low turnout and not repeated soon.  So the history of the poll as part of the electoral scene starts in 1987.  Since I haven't seen it laid out in full detail anywhere else (it may have been, I just haven't seen it), here's the list of all previous placings versus nomination results (Republican only):

Bush (3rd)
Dole (1st)
Bush (1st)
McCain (10th)

Of the four significant Ames Iowa Republican straw polls, in two the winners became the Republican nominee, in one it was the third place candidate, and most recently, the guy who came 10th out of 11 won the nomination.   So how does coming in third spell doom for the Pawlenty campaign?  Not just third place, but one of only three candidates to break double-digits, putting him significantly ahead of most of the others. 

The claim that he needed to do well in Ames is more than just a talk-show meme; Pawlenty said in no uncertain terms that his campaign "needed some lift" from Ames and that, having not gotten it, his candidacy was no longer viable.  He also said his campaign was about getting his record of achievement before the voters.  Not about charisma or a vision for America, but getting his record out there.  That's a valid strategy, but it's a long-haul strategy.  It's going to take time for voters to get past the flash-in-the-pan candidates to see your worth.  That is incompatible with a strategy that depends on winning a popularity contest at the first state fair of the campaign season.  These are basic realities that any serious politician or handler knows.  Which makes me wonder if Pawlenty was ever in it to win.  Either he has really, really bad political instincts or it was all a game.  

What kind of game?  Well, it does occur to me that ex-presidential candidate Pawlenty is a much more bookable speaker than ex-governor Pawlenty.  He said himself, his campaign was not about a vision for America, it wasn't even about winning the presidency, it was about getting himself more recognition.  Which makes him more marketable.

Let's face it, politicians make a hell of a lot less money than the people they hobnob with, especially Republican politicians.  Compared to most of the big names in his party, he's a relative pauper.  Now is the perfect time to start building that fortune: his kids are about to start college and opportunities for Republican speakers are as good as they've ever been.  His local party offered him the chance to run for senator, but he's given them a definite no on that.

The way I see it, this all adds up to one thing: He's pulling a Palin, capitalizing on a failed foray into national politics by leaving public service for the service of Mammon.  The difference is, he meant to all along.  If I was one of his donors, I'd be pretty unhappy.

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