While most of us tried to enjoy the weekend, most of America's political reporters (few are actual journalists) were focused on a Republican "straw poll" in Ames, Iowa.
While hardly serving as a predictor of which candidate is going to win the R nomination or even the Iowa caucuses early next year (you know, the vote that actually counts for something officially), it does serve as an early test of who has the best organization in Iowa, an early primary state.
The Ames straw poll has lost some of its luster in recent years - 2008 GOP nominee John McCain skipped this event in 2007, and the 2007 winner and the front runner in national polls this year, Mitt Romney, skipped it this year.
- In case you have been living under a rock - or were at least smarter than me and didn't turn on a cable news show this weekend - MN Congresswoman Michele Bachmann eked out a victory over TX Congressman (and perennial candidate) Ron Paul. Former MN Governor Tim Pawlenty came in a distant third.
Quick analysis: While most winners of the straw poll do NOT go on to win the GOP nomination, winning is still better than losing. Bachmann is still viewed by most (including many Rs) as a "fringe" candidate. However, she's still got some upside; Paul has probably reached the top end of his candidacy. He may stay in the top tier for a while, but he's probably going to fade.
- Pawlenty expended a lot of time and effort in Iowa. His disappointing showing of a rather distant third led him to drop out of the race this morning. While he may have been one of the GOP's better options for the general election, he didn't generate much buzz among GOP primary voters, and you need to win the primary before getting to the general.
Quick analysis: Add his name to the list of potential GOP VP candidates. If GOP voters pick an "extreme" or "tea party" candidate like Bachmann, look for their ticket to be balanced by someone more mainstream like Pawlenty or AZ's soon-to-be retired Sen. Jon Kyl. If someone more "mainstream" like Romney gets the nod, they'll go with someone who appeals to the hardcore base, like a Bachmann or former PA Senator Rick Santorum (warning: link probably not safe for work).
- TX Governor Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry made official what everyone already knew by announcing his candidacy yesterday in South Carolina, before trekking to New Hampshire. He had announced in May that he wasn't going to be a candidate for President, but flip-flopped (perhaps after realizing that the rest of the R field has some serious weaknesses).
Quick analysis: It's easy to dismiss Perry as just another "all hat, no cattle" Texas pol, but that happened in 1999/2000 with another governor from Texas, and we all know how that turned out.