Opinion: Iowa Straw Poll Preview: Who's In and Who Will Win?

Now that the debt ceiling crisis is temporarily over, it’s time to turn back to the pending Iowa GOP Straw Poll and the first GOP presidential debate in Iowa. It’s hard to get a hard handle on turnout for the Iowa Straw poll since it’s a test of the organizational ability of candidates – who can bus in more folks and get them to vote – than of public opinion that can be measured with surveys.

And once again the process is pregnant with too many people who think they are qualified to even mention that they are running for president.

The contenders:

  • Bachmann
  • Hermann Cain
  • Newt Gingrich
  • John Huntsman
  • Gary Johnson
  • Ron Paul
  • Tim Pawlenty
  • Mitt Romney
  • Rick Santorum
  • Thaddeus McCotter

Pols who are on many wish lists but who've have not (yet) indicated an interest in running:

  • Chris Christie
  • Sarah Palin
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Rick Perry

Talking to fellow reporters and analysts as well as party activists, here are my projections of what to watch for:

  • Bachmann is likely to win
  • Cain wins the award for best speaker but remains an unviable candidate
  • Gingrich's remains damaged after Tiffany fiasco and GOP budget comments
  • Huntsman will not do well, but keep an eye on him in NH
  • Johnson not a factor
  • Paul is a constant favorite in the Libertarian wing of the party and he’s said he needs to come in third, which may be possible
  • Pawlenty is in a hot and nasty contest with fellow Minnesotan Bachmann and could come in towards the top of the pile
  • Romney is not participating in the straw poll and seems to be bypassing Iowa BUT his supporters could organize an informal Straw Poll showing. (Not likely)
  • Santorum has been running largely on three cylinders, but could limp in fourth or fifth.
  • You might be asking about the non-participants Palin, Perry and Christie.

    I thought Palin might get in, but her praise of Michelle Bachmann following the debt ceiling vote makes me doubt that she will. Palin will be a kingmaker, issuing Tweets on the other contenders as she's done in the past few months, trashing Mitt Romney's debt ceiling stance the same day as she praised Bachmann.

    Christie has a lot of pressure on him to run, and if the field looks shaky enough, he may come in late for the caucuses. There's virtually no way he can get organized in time to participate in the near term, though.

    Rick Perry is a different kettle of fish. I spoke to a prominent Texan this week who asked me if I think Perry’s opposition to Ethanol subsidies would hurt him in Iowa, and this weekend Tom Pauken is giving a speech in New Hampshire. Never heard of him? He’s a prominent Texas conservative who has played an important role in Texas GOP politics for 30 years. He is a Perry appointee and will be in Iowa speaking to “On Deck 2012,” a “Republican initiative in New Hampshire that provides a close and personal opportunity for Presidential hopefuls and other leaders to meet local residents leading up to New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary...”

    Hmm. Methinks he’s scoping out the landscape for Rick Perry!

    Overall, the Straw Poll result may not be as good an indicator for the Iowa Caucuses as it was the last time around, when Arkansas then-Gov. Mike Huckabee won both.

    Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, writes and blogs for WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country,” and is chief political correspondent for Insideriowa.com.