Showdown in Ames

AMES, Iowa – Republican voters are beginning to file in to vote in the 2011 Republican straw poll. On the ballot, and in attendance, are Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Thaddeus McCotter. On the ballot and not in attendance: Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, Newt Gingrich. The rest of the GOP’s candidates will have to settle for write-in votes, and there’ll be considerable gloating and jockeying over the write-in candidates who beat the non-attendees – if that happens.

Republicans are expecting a turnout in the low five digits, possibly 14,000. A lower turnout is better for Ron Paul, whose campaign has at least 2,750 tickets, and who everyone from Sarah Palin to Steve King is boosting as a possible winner today. A higher turnout is better for Michele Bachmann, whose flashy, overwhelming pre-straw poll campaign is facing its first test. The consensus of many Republicans I talk to is a bit of a contradiction: The poll may not be incredibly meaningful, but if Pawlenty doesn’t get, at least, a strong third place, he’ll have trouble raising money.