Can Ron Paul Win the Ames Straw Poll?

Candidates got the chance yesterday to rent space on the site of the August straw poll, the very unofficial kickoff of the GOP’s caucus campaign. Mitt Romney’s not competing, and neither is Jon Huntsman. The result:

The most paid for a straw poll spot came from Texas congressman Ron Paul. He spent $31,000 on a spot occupied by by the Mitt Romney campaign at the 2007 straw pol, said A.J. Spiker, vice chairman of Paul’s Iowa campaign.

In 2007, Romney parked a campaign bus in a fairly huge space; he and his sons worked crowds all day. And he’d only spent $25,000 for that space! Romney ended up winning the straw poll after buying the most tickets of any of the candidates; Mike Huckabee came in second despite spending much less money, largely because the FairTax organization bought their own tickets (their tent was air conditioned and had beaucoups free copies of Neal Boortz’s book) and many FairTaxers backed Huckabee.

And then there was Ron Paul – a missed opportunity. Paul’s campaign organized a bit late, surprised by its gushing campaign coffers, and shelled out for 800 tickets. It only came in fifth place, largely because it hadn’t identified enough Iowa supporters, and a lot of the people populating the Paul circus had driven in from out of state.

This year, it’s tough to imagine Paul underperforming – he got 11,817 Iowa Caucus votes in 2008, after all . By pulling out, Mitt Romney has gifted Tim Pawlenty with, to name the most likely outcomes, a pricey contest in which Paul comes second or first, and the first runners-up can be Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.