Still too early to pick leading GOP candidate

Freedom New Mexico

The Republican presidential race is tightening. The Iowa straw poll Saturday didn’t pick any delegates, which will be done at the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 6, but the poll began culling the herd of GOP candidates.

Finishing first with 4,823 votes was Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was born in the Hawkeye State and was elected to Congress from neighboring Minnesota. Her feisty campaign attracted Tea Party support. Commendably, she opposed the recent budget deal that increased the federal debt limit to $17 trillion without significant spending reforms.

Just 152 votes behind her ran Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose libertarian stances increasingly have been adopted by the Tea Party and Republicans in general. He also was the only major candidate to advocate ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For years, he has pointed out that the wars, in addition to killing more than 4,000 U.S. troops, are a major drain on the U.S. Treasury; and that any deficit and debt reduction must include major defense cuts.

A third-place finish, with 2,293 votes, led Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to drop out.

Spoiling the fun was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. He didn’t run in the Iowa poll, but announced his candidacy the day it was held, garnering national attention. A conservative on many issues, he’s running on the Lone Star State’s stellar economic performance, in which it has created 40 percent of new U.S. jobs in recent years. Critics point out that he supported Democrat Al Gore for president in 1988.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the previous straw poll, in 2007, didn’t participate this time. He finished second in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008. Mr. Romney has built strong teams in Iowa and New Hampshire, the location of the first primary. He’s running a smooth campaign. But he still backs his medical reform in Massachusetts, including coverage mandates, which was a partial model for the Obamacare program most Republicans would like to repeal.

“It’s now a four-way race” with Romney and Perry leading, said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. The straw poll “isn’t a random sample of votes, so it doesn’t necessarily predict the outcome of the Iowa Caucuses in about six months. Bachmann and Paul have an organization and will be around for a while. The path to the nomination for them is steep, but at least as far as Iowa goes, any number of outcomes is possible.”

Unannounced possible candidates include Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential nominee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, popular for his sharp budget cuts. And still running are the also-rans from Iowa: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and businessman Herman Cain.

Let the campaign rumble continue.