Well, the Ames straw poll has been and gone, with Michele Bachmann winning this crucial context with 4,823 votes, from Ron Paul, with Rick Perry a write-in…

What? The Ames straw poll. Surely you’ve heard of it. Ames, Iowa, city of 60,000 people in the middle of ethanol country. Every election cycle Ames jumps the pack to hold a quirky, folksy, vote for all comers about who they’d like to see nominated for Presidential candidate. Celebration of democracy really, more a bit of carnival than anything.

Or so it was. Even as recently as 2004, Ames barely rated a mention. Now, bizarrely, the American political cycle has become so permanent that this state-fair schlockfest has become a vital part in the decision as to who will control the world’s largest economy and nuclear arsenal.

Just as Jimmy Carter’s 1976 victory in the Iowa caucus made the statewide campaign a key part of the electoral cycle, so the Rightward drift of the Republican party has put Ames at the centre. Iowa itself is a moderate state; but its Republican party is hard-right evangelical.

This election, the competition for the evangelical hard right vote was so fierce that Ames became the battleground.

Thus the victory of crazy-lady made-eyes Michele Bachmann is not of itself that significant. She’s a Minnesota gal, so she had a lot of northern evangelical networks she could call on. No-one remotely believes that she will get the nomination, but he could win a few primaries in states like South Dakota, where there the GOP is dominated by evangelists, who nevertheless hate Southern preachers.

The real winner in Ames was Rick Perry, the Texas governor, who was studiously not running in the poll, but who picked up around 800 ballots as a write-in (ie where people write in the name of someone they want on the ballot).

Perry’s vote allowed him to pull ahead of Mitt Romney, who wasn’t campaigning in Ames, but who was on the ballot. Had Perry not had a write-iAn victory, such a result would have looked insouciantly respectable – but to be beaten by a write-in looks plain embarrassing

The Ames poll also became remarkable this time around for finishing off a candidate – Tim Pawlenty, who appears to have used his poor showing in the event to do what he was going to do anyway, and pull out of the race. Pawlenty had hoped to position himself midpoint between the centre and the Right – clearly he now believes that Romney and Rick Perry will carve up that field, and potential backers do too.

That it would most likely be a Romney-Perry race became obvious as soon as Perry’s intention to run became clear. Yet one effect of the ever earlier start to the US race is that ridiculous assumptions are made. Six months from now, such a forecast now being given as confidently as the suggestion that Hillary Clinton would face no real competition for the 08 nomination, may look foolish. Palin may still run.

It would be mad so she’ll probably do it. The next inauguration may be of President Petraeus. This will run and run, and in 2015, some state will find some mechanism to start the process even earlier…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey