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The end of straw polls?

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There have been four straw polls since Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 13, each won by a different Republican candidate.

Businessmann Herman Cain won the P5 straw poll in Florida this weekend.

Businessman Herman Cain claimed the biggest victory, winning the P5 straw poll in Florida on Saturday. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won at Mackinac Island in Michigan on Sunday. And Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum won straw votes in California and Pennsylvania respectively.

Of that group, only one — Romney — is given a serious chance of winning the 2012 presidential nomination, a fact which raises a critical question: Do straw polls matter?

For years, the Ames Straw Poll — held on the campus of Iowa State University every four years — has been regarded as a key early test of organizational muscle in advance of the Iowa caucuses

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s surprise second-place showing in the 2007 Ames Straw Poll was touted as an early indicator of his victory in Iowa in 2008. (Of course, Romney won the 2007 straw vote and came up short to Huckabee the following January.)

And, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s win in the 1999 Ames Straw Poll — a contest in which he and businessman Steve Forbes spent heavily to turn out their voters — was seen as an affirmation of his frontrunner status both in Iowa (where he won in 2000) and nationally.

When it comes to the P5 poll, it has been won by the eventual GOP nominee every year since 1979 — predicting even more winners than Ames.

But, Bachmann’s victory in this year’s Ames Straw Poll has raised questions about its predictive ability.

Rather than serving as a sign of things to come, Bachmann’s win seemed to mark an end point — at least for her status as a top-tier candidate.

Bachmann’s fortunes have slid since her Ames win, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry has co-opted much of her social conservative support and she has struggled to expand her appeal beyond her base.

And, while Cain’s victory in Florida was a nice moment for his campaign — and will absolutely help him raise money — it seems unlikely that the businessman will follow in the footsteps of the last four winners of the Sunshine State straw poll who went on to win the GOP nod.

The reasons given for the straw poll victories by these long-shot candidates run the gamut.

Straw polls in which only a few thousand people (at most) vote tend to reward candidates with the most loyal, not necessarily the largest, vote bases. The more attention a candidate lavishes on a straw poll, the more likely he or she is to win it. Only the most conservative portion of the Republican base shows up at these events, skewing the results to the most ideological candidate, not the most electable one.

If even the biggest straw polls — and there are lots and lots of smaller one, almost all of which have been won by Paul — are robbed of both their meaningfulness and predictive power, it’s easy to see why candidates in the future won’t spend the time and money to compete in them. (Romney announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t actively compete in any straw polls, a decision that looks smarter and smarter in retrospect.)

Defenders of the straw poll still have a case to make, however. While winning straw polls aren’t likely to transform Bachmann or Cain into the Republican nominee, not winning Ames forced former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty from the race and Perry’s second-place showing in Florida added to the chatter that his campaign is faltering.

More and more, it seems the straw polls are better for weeding out candidates than crowning nominees.

States holding straw polls will continue to insist they matter, as will the candidates who win them. But, will anyone else be listening in future elections?

Christie rethinking?: Several news outlets are now reporting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is rethinking his decision not to run for president.

While Christie’s camp is still dismissing the reports, this is the first time that the reports have been this widespread. Previously, it was relegated to individual news outlets or GOP strategists here and there.

While we’re not sure there’s much to these reports, we still thought it worthwhile to look at the governor’s motivations. For more on that, check out our Monday Fix column here.

Democrat gets into Arizona Senate race: Don Bivens, a former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, is announcing today that he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl (R).

Bivens spoke with local and national Democrats about the seat. Democrats believe it to be a potential pickup opportunity, but Rep. Jeff Flake (R) announced his bid in February and has built up a large fundraising advantage as Democrats have sought their own candidate.

Many Democrats had been waiting to see whether Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head from a January assassination attempt, would run. It now seems unlikely that she will.

Former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona has said he is also considering running on the Democratic side.

Republican convention picks top messenger: The Republican National Convention in Tampa is bringing on a former Republican National Committee staffer and convention veteran to handle the 2012 convention’s communications.

James Davis, who served as associate director of communications at the 2008 convention, will serve as director of communications at next year’s pre-presidential gathering.

Davis has also worked as deputy director of media affairs at the RNC and most recently has worked at the Brunswick Group.

Fixbits:

The Democratic National Committee releases a web video in advance of Romney’s meeting with Donald Trump.

FreedomWorks sounds like its softening its criticism of Romney.

Colin Powell is writing a book.

Perry blocks some reporters from perusing his Twitter feed.

Joe McGinniss’ and Levi Johnston’s tell-alls about the Palins are both struggling.

SNL does the GOP debates.

Obama knocks Perry on climate change.

Must-reads:

A Campaign Finance Ruling Turned to Labor’s Advantage” — Steven Greenhouse, New York Times

2012 also-rans: In it not to win it” — Reid J. Epstein, Politico

Tommy Thompson faces Brett Favre-esque problem as fans of ex-governor want him to stay retired” — Mary Spicuzza, Wisconsin State Journal

Cracks appear in Obama’s Chicago base” — Steven R. Strahler, Crain’s

Obama 2012 campaign’s Operation Vote focuses on ethnic minorities, core liberals” — Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

Romney using wife’s story to connect with voters” — Steve Peoples, AP

Democrats Forced to Face Issue of Race” — Shira Toeplitz, CQ-Roll Call

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