The Campaign Spot

Are Either Tonight’s Debate or the Ames Straw Poll Really That Decisive?

Over at the Des Moines Register, they’re convinced tonight’s debate could be a very big deal:

Just 36 hours after the debate, Iowans start to vote at the Iowa straw poll, where success hinges on self-motivated voters either hopping on a campaign bus at the crack of dawn or driving themselves across the state to Ames.

“It puts so much pressure on these candidates to perform well,” said Chuck Laudner, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. “A bad performance has the real chance of sinking their straw poll numbers.”

Or, if a sleeper candidate knocks it out of the ballpark and impresses the political junkies, Friday’s post-debate dissection could reap straw poll votes, he said.

Question: Which will sway more votes at the straw poll: Tonight’s debate performance? Or which candidate has the best free food?

By the way, some think that without Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin* or even Jon Huntsman in attendance, turnout for this year’s poll will be lower than the last one, which was merely 14,302. In 2007 Romney won with 4,516. Turnout for the 2008 Iowa GOP caucus itself was 119,118, and Mike Huckabee ended up beating Romney by more than 10,000 votes.

In other words, it’s quite possible what we’ll see this weekend is the preference of an unrepresentative sample of about 12 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers.

* As noted below, Palin is in Iowa, and not far from the straw poll site, but is not officially competing in the straw poll. We’ll have to see if Ames attendees write her in anyway.

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