Holy Crap, it’s the Ames Straw Poll!


Today, in Ames, Iowa, the race for the Republican presidential candidacy begins its gestation. Candidates, pundits and voters flock to the campus of Iowa State University to, according to the Los Angeles Times, “mingle, eat barbecue and have a little fun.” Oh, and vote. They’re voting too. While some dismiss this informal vote as little more than an idiosyncratic political tradition, the Ames Straw Poll has proved to be an important bellwether. As Nate Silver of the New York Times‘ FiveThirtyEight blog notes, since 1979, “the candidate winning the Iowa caucus has placed first or second in the straw poll every time.” What can we look forward to seeing today at Iowa State University (notable alumni: Parviz Davoodi, ’81, director of the presidential center for strategic studies in Iran, appointed by President Ahmadinejad in 2009)?

Money matters:
It costs participants $30 to make a vote at the Ames Straw Poll. Many candidates bus in supporters and pay their fees. Candidates pay for spots outside Iowa State’s arena, setting up informal headquarters and recruiting centers. This year’s highest bidder was Ron Paul, who spent $31,000 to ensure a large space close to the arena. All the money goes to the Republican Party of Iowa, who we assume will spend it on more straw.

No shirt, no shoes, no Romney:
Mitt Romney, the last Ames winner, will not be in attendance. Does he think he’s too cool for school? Probably not, he’s just hoping enough people will spend 30 bucks to write him in. If he comes close to the top three, he’ll be golden. Former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, will also forgo the event.

Who’s going to win the damn thing?
The frontrunners are Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty and Bachmann have been quarrelling ever since the surgeon separated the two, conjoined at the talking point, in St. Paul. Ron Paul always does well at these things because his hardcore supporters come out in droves. He’s like a Libertarian Phish.

Candidates will be giving speeches this afternoon before the votes are cast. Results will start coming in around 6 p.m. EST, and then you can commence over or under-reaction, depending on how your candidate does.

Ames Straw Poll: A viewers guide [Politico]