Ames straw poll bidding and other GOP presidential campaign news

Six candidates joined the bidding yesterday as the Republican Party of Iowa auctioned off space for the Ames straw poll event. Representative Ron Paul ponied up $31,000 for the best spot to pitch a tent outside the August 13 festivities. Four years ago, front-runner Mitt Romney used that spot, but the well-financed Romney is ditching this year’s straw poll.

The other candidates to pay at least $15,000 for guaranteed spots at the venue and on the straw poll ballot were Representative Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and (coming way out of right field) Representative Thad McCotter of Michigan. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was conspicuously absent from the bidding. Candidates who didn’t bid yesterday may secure a spot on the straw poll ballot later. Among the possibilities: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Follow me after the jump for more on the Republican campaign trail in Iowa, including new endorsements and Pawlenty’s first television commercial.

Pawlenty continues to rack up establishment support in Iowa. The latest big name to endorse him is former State Auditor Richard Johnson. During the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson frequently clashed with Governor Terry Branstad. He co-chaired Bob Vander Plaats’ 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Hoping to keep momentum going from his recent direct mail to Iowa Republicans, this week Pawlenty became the first presidential hopeful to run Iowa television commercials this year. You can view his “Results Not Rhetoric” spot here. Transcript:

A lot of candidates will come to Iowa and say the same things. The question is, have they done it? In a liberal state, I reduced spending in real terms for the first time, took on the government unions and won, appointed a conservative supreme court and passed health care reform the right way – no mandates, no takeover. If I can do it in Minnesota, we can do it in Washington. I’m Tim Pawlenty, and I approved this message.

It’s odd timing to go up on television, especially since Pawlenty’s campaign doesn’t appear to be flush with cash:

At least five top advisers to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty have been working for little or no pay for several months, a campaign source said Wednesday.

The news establishes with more certainty the emerging portrait of Pawlenty as struggling to keep up with the larger and better-funded operation of his main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

It also raises the question of whether Pawlenty will have the necessary resources to compete in a long, state-by-state campaign against Romney as well as other GOP candidates who have better-established fundraising networks, including former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

Maybe Pawlenty thinks tv ads will help him raise money and generate buzz in Iowa. I just don’t see things coming together for him in the caucuses. He’s the guy everyone knows they should like, but no one really likes. He comes across as trying too hard, as in his reaction to President Barack Obama’s televised speech on Afghanistan.

If Pawlenty makes a move in the Iowa polling (the Des Moines Register’s new survey will be released this weekend), his fiscal record will increasingly come under attack. Pawlenty has a point that a projected budget shortfall is not technically a “deficit” (Bleeding Heartland has been on that case for a while). But facts are facts: under Pawlenty’s leadership, Minnesota saw its credit rating decline, its debt load increase and its cash reserves depleted, even though the state received $2 billion in federal stimulus funding. Pawlenty’s administration also used tricks to conceal revenue shortages and pushed more costs onto local governments, leading to property tax hikes. His presidential campaign rivals would be insane not to educate Republican caucus-goers about that record. Former Governor Chet Culver’s I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative was a dirty word in GOP circles here, but Pawlenty signed off on much more bonding to fund capital projects.

Speaking of Minnesotans, Michele Bachmann will formally announce her presidential campaign in Waterloo on June 27, even though she already announced it in a web video released June 13 and during the GOP New Hampshire debate that day. Bachmann plans a bus tour through Iowa from July 2 through 4. This week she picked up her second endorsement from an Iowa legislator. State Senator Jack Whitver said, “I’ve studied the field, reviewed the candidates, and have come to the conclusion that Michele Bachmann is the candidate that best embodies my views and hopes for Iowa and our nation.” Whitver’s a new figure in state politics, having won a special election for his Senate seat in January.

Josh Nelson published a feature in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier about Bachmann’s childhood years in the metro area. It’s an interesting piece, though I question the headline-writer’s choice of words: “Presidential hopeful Bachmann began life as little Michele Marie Amble in Waterloo.” News flash: just like prominent women, prominent men start life “little.”

Rick Santorum is positioning himself as the presidential candidate with the most foreign policy experience, and he didn’t care for the president’s Afghanistan drawdown plans. Santorum said Obama

speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory. Every American wants our brave men and women home safely, but we cannot let those who’ve given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we’ve made thus far. We must be squarely focused on succeeding in Afghanistan rather than on politically motivated troop withdrawals. Sadly, President Obama doesn’t seem to share that commitment.

Earlier this week, Santorum blasted Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy and policy toward countries in the Middle East. Meanwhile, his staff are trying to keep expectations low:

Jamie Johnson, Santorum’s state coalitions director, said he believes his candidate is building a solid grass-roots campaign. Johnson said he expects nine Republicans to be in the race by the time the Ames straw poll is held in August. Santorum is shooting for a finish within the top five candidates in the straw poll, Johnson said.

Hoping for a top five finish out of maybe nine candidates? Not too ambitious.

The award for bizarre tactical move of the week goes to Herman Cain for telling the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich,

“We are going to have very nice display but we’re not going to go overboard in terms of bells and whistles, Cain said. “Secondly, we’re not going to try and buy votes like it is rumored that some people have done in the past. I’m just saying.”

I asked who he thought might have tried to buy votes. “No, no. I’m just saying, we just hear that some people have done that in the past,” he said.

Cain said his campaign will furnish straw poll tickets, which cost $30, for supporters to attend. But, he said, “We’re not going to buy the ticket and then pay them $50 to come so they can have a good time so they can go vote in the straw poll.”

Way to irritate Iowa GOP officials and devalue an event where you need to do well. A decent showing in Ames could help Cain break out of the second tier, the way Mike Huckabee did in 2007.

As I mentioned near the top of this post, Newt Gingrich didn’t participate in yesterday’s straw poll bidding. He has no Iowa staff left and spent a bunch of money on chartered planes, leaving his campaign without the cash to buy the previous caucus-goer list or a spot on the straw poll ballot. Moreover, his whole campaign finance team just quit right before a fundraising deadline, and news emerged that he had a second line of credit at the luxury jeweler Tiffany’s. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much more of Gingrich in Iowa.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is supposedly planning to announce a presidential bid this summer and may participate in the Ames straw poll. I don’t think he’d do very well without campaigning in Iowa beforehand, but with such a weak GOP field, who can say?

Any comments about the Republican presidential field are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Craig Robinson thinks McCotter got the second-best space outside the straw poll venue, Bachmann and Santorum got spaces with pluses and minuses, while Pawlenty was the big loser:

The Pawlenty campaign was outbid on multiple lots and ultimately selected a large grassy area located on the southeast corner of Hilton Coliseum.  The lot is separated from all of the other campaigns and vendors.  They will be walled off from the rest of the action by the scores of satellite trucks that park on the south side of the building.  Not only is the lot isolated from everything else, it’s also the farthest away from the voting booths.

For a campaign that has launched the first TV ad, sent the first mail piece, hired the most staff, and has been announcing endorsements daily, getting outbid by McCotter and everybody else seems inconceivable.  Rumors have also been floating around for a while now that Pawlenty has reserved 200 buses as well as a Christian band to perform in Ames.  Again, Pawlenty’s actions don’t fit his lot selection.

Pawlenty better hope for good weather.  If it rains, his area is going to be soggy.

If Pawlenty hadn’t built up such a large campaign payroll, he could have afforded not to be stingy on last week’s bidding. I don’t see him living up to expectations in the Iowa caucuses.

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