By all accounts, the outcome of the straw poll remained unusually up for grabs in an uncertain and still-growing field of candidates, with Pawlenty, fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul
all in position to perform well after weeks of building support across the state.
Just what the outcome will mean is equally uncertain, however, given the list of candidates not competing in it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to announce his candidacy Saturday morning, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who visited the state fair Friday, will not be on the straw poll ballot even though both could soon be in the race.
Similarly, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. will not participate in the poll, with both heading to events in New Hampshire.
“It’s probably as unpredictable a straw poll as we have had,” said Matt Strawn, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “I think some of that goes to the fluidity of the race and the late-developing nature and the notion that most Iowa caucus-goers are still at the dating phase of the caucus process. They perhaps haven’t married the candidate they will see all the way through the caucus.”
Pawlenty took to the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” at the fair, as did Paul and Bachmann — his two main rivals in the straw poll. Like the rest of the Republican field, Pawlenty spent most of his time criticizing the man he hopes to challenge next year, President Obama.
“Tell Barack Obama he has had his chance and it isn’t working,” Pawlenty said.
A win for Pawlenty could give him the momentum he needs, while a loss, depending on its severity, could doom his ability to draw crucial donors heading into the fall. Bachmann hopes to show that she can sustain her catapult to the top of the standings in Iowa since declaring her candidacy in June. Paul is hoping that a strong showing will grow his base beyond a narrow band of Republicans who are attracted to his libertarian and isolationist views.
For candidates lower in the standings, such as former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain, a good showing could provide a much-needed boost, and a poor one could doom their chances.
Amid the livestock shows, carnival rides and fried delicacies of the state fair, Palin attracted the most attention with a midday stroll through the exhibits and a private lunch with her husband, Todd. Palin said she has made no decision on running but doesn’t want to keep her supporters waiting “in perpetuity.”