What Would USA Today Say about Howard Dean’s Performance in Iowa?

As Jason noted earlier, the results are in — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has handily taken top honors in the 2011 Ames Straw Poll, edging out Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and obliterating former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann became the first woman in history to win the straw poll in the home of America’s first caucus, according to the National Journal.

Aside from the various problems with straw polls in a general sense, and how poorly the Ames Straw Poll serves as an indicator of eventual primary winners (note: the CPAC straw poll has the same problem), what does this really mean? Probably not much at all.

But that hasn’t stopped the editorial board at USA Today from getting their digs in while they can.

They editorialize, opining the attention “fringe candidates” receive in Iowa:


Of the candidates actively participating this year, only Pawlenty has any kind of background of centrism, and he has taken a right turn since announcing his candidacy. Much of the attention will be on Bachmann, who has been doing well in recent Iowa polls, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the darling of libertarians.

Both these candidates are outside the broad political mainstream. During the recent debt-ceiling fiasco, Bachmann was among the House members who pledged not to raise the government’s borrowing limit under any circumstances. Paul shared this position, and he has views on banking and monetary policy best described as pre-industrial. Both are long shots to win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.

And yet the Iowa Republican Party has devised an event that seems almost perfectly suited to showcasing their doctrinaire views. Is that good for the GOP? Or for the USA?


I agree that Bachmann and Paul are longshots for the nomination, and either would be swiftly dispatched by the Obama machine in a general election.

But when did the USA Today become the great arbiter of what constitutes “broad political mainstream” thought?

After all, when Howard Dean’s team asserted itself on legions of progressives who were using MeetUp.com to coordinate leaderless campaign activities across the country, and convinced them to descend on Iowa as part of the advance team, rural Iowans wound up feeling put off by the Starbucks-sipping Seattle and Portland types who insisted that the Democratic Party and the dynastic influence of the Clintons needed to be overthrown and ultimately remade in a more progressive vision. Dean supporters later carried this strategy into his 2005 bid for Democratic National Committee chairmanship, but that’s another story for another day.

So the point is that primary elections bring out fringe candidates on both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t matter if the Iowa Republican Party creates the Ames state fair event or not. Political crackpots get into the race early, and I would argue that we need events like this — if for no other reason, people need to see what’s going on under the hood, to determine for themselves what constitutes “broad political mainstream” thought.

It worked in 2004, after all:


It’s something I wrestled with in 2004, when Web sites were filled with gushing superlatives about Democrats Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. But once the primaries and caucuses were underway, that virtual passion did not translate into real votes; Dean could only win his home state of Vermont, and Kucinich was out of the running in every single contest.


It’s the weekend, and I’m out of town with my girlfriend — so I’m not going to go digging. Suffice it to say that I’m highly skeptical of the notion that the USA Today editorial board gave Dean’s operation in 2004 the same treatment they gave Bachmann and Paul this past Friday.

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