The Campaign Spot

Romney Looks Like a Shoo-In For The Straw Poll, But Will He Win The Expectations Game?

So what does Mitt Romney need to win by in order to “meet expectations” tomorrow?

One mind tied to one of Romney’s rivals jokingly told me “64 to 1.”
Let’s look back at how George W. Bush did in 1999, against some formidable-at-the-time competitors like Elizabeth Dole and Steve Forbes…

TOTAL VOTES: 23,685
  votes %
Bush 7418 31
Forbes 4921 21
Dole 3410 14
Bauer 2114 9
Buchanan 1719 7
Alexander 1428 6
Keyes 1101 5
Quayle 916 4
Hatch 558 2
McCain 83

Now, Romney’s also spent a small fortune in Iowa:

“Facing off against this are a half-dozen candidates whose combined Iowa expenditures through the end of June did not match the $1 million Romney had spent by that point, not including his many TV ads…One candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has assembled an unrivaled operation for the event: a statewide corps of 60 ‘super-volunteers,’ who have been paid between $500 and $1,000 per month to talk him up; a fleet of buses; more than $2 million in television ads in Iowa; a sleek direct-mail campaign; and a consultant who has been paid nearly $200,000 to direct Romney’s straw poll production, which will include barbecue billed as the best in the state.

 In light of that, more than ten percentage points would seem to be a fair expectation, right?Well,the Romney folks can play the expectations game, too, offering these “fast facts”:

v     Scott Reed, Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign manger, said this morning: “If Romney wins he’s the undisputed champ.  After this weekend, when Romney wins — even if it’s by 10 votes — he’s another step to being the candidate of the social conservatives.”

v     The 1999 Ames Straw Poll was an anomaly and it is unrealistic to compare absolute turnout figures from 1999 to this year.

v     In August 1999, George Bush had a dominant lead in national polls.  A July Pew Research poll showed his support at 60%, with his closest challenger, Elizabeth Dole, at 13%.  Currently, the average of national public polls in August shows Gov. Romney at approximately 10%.  This lack of a prevailing national front runner, will suppress attendance at this year’s Straw Poll.

v     In addition to his national frontrunner status, Bush was the clear favorite in Iowa.  Three days before the Straw Poll, PSI fielded a statewide poll that showed Bush at 37% with Steve Forbes in second place with 15%.  While Gov. Romney leads in Iowa, his support does not reach the level of Bush’s in 1999.  The average of all statewide polls in July showed support for Gov. Romney at 24.8%.

v     Finally, this year’s Straw Poll is absent of two major candidates and non-candidate Fred Thompson.  While their names will still appear on the ballot, their absence from the event will undoubtedly lower attendance. 

Whatever amount Romney gets – unless that 64 to 1 joke turns into reality – we can count on his rivals saying, “yeah, for what he spent, and without the real competition, it’s not that impressive.” Of course, if they really thought Romney’s strength in Iowa was illusory, why did they skip Ames?

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