Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out from the Republican presidential race Sunday, after Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll. Pawlenty finished 3rd with 2293 votes behind Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Congressman Ron Paul with 4823 and 4671 respectively.
Pawlenty’s decision gives unnecessary merit to the Ames Straw Poll, a poll that Mike Huckabee calls the “most important meaningless event in American politics.” In the 2007 poll Mitt Romney (who skipped the poll this year) won, while Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus and John McCain won the Republican primary. Huckabee is not alone in his statement about the poll. McCain – 2008’s frontrunner — and Rudy Giuliani skipped out in 2007, and Huntsman and Romney opted out this year, making the poll's results especially irrelevant.
While many of the poll’s winners have in turn won the state’s caucus and the nomination, recent election frontrunners’ decisions to opt-out of participating shows the shift away from its supposed importance. In 1987, George H.W. Bush also finished 3rd in the Ames Straw Poll, losing to Pat Robertson and Bob Dole (Dole ended up winning the Iowa Caucus), but Bush was still nominated as the Republican candidate. Bush is one indication of this poll's lack of importance After losing at Ames, he still continued to campaign and make his presidential bid stronger and ended up victorious.
And yet the poll simultaneously solidifies the positions of candidates. Bachmann's and Paul’s candidacies are looking stronger in the eyes of conservative America as a result of the poll. There is no question that Ames reflects a Republican candidate’s ability to draw support, and tests the strength of one’s campaign staff. But it is just a popularity contest — not about the issues between candidates. Choosing a winner for the Ames Straw Poll is like choosing a prom king and queen, it was not about grades or a contest of intelligence.
It is fitting that the biggest mistake of Pawlenty’s presidential campaign is his resignation after the Ames Straw Poll. Presidential elections are not all about popularity. Pawlenty should have looked at Republican President Abraham Lincoln, a man who had one of the worst election track records in American history and yet he won the presidency after all those defeats for lower political offices. If Pawlenty had stuck around until the Iowa Caucus, he might have been able to see just how meaningless the poll can be.
Pawlenty’s dropout means that the poll will continue to have significance in Republican politics. Pawlenty admitted defeat instead of attempting to improve his presidential bid by being the exception to the rule. Pawlenty has proven himself to be satisfied with the status quo and unwilling to attempt to change it.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore