AMES, Iowa — The much-ballyhooed Iowa straw poll hasn’t even been held yet, and already it’s being overshadowed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the mercurial Sarah Palin.
Perry, who is to announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on Saturday in South Carolina, will appear — along with Michele Bachmann — at a party event Sunday in Waterloo. (Initially, Bachmann didn’t want to accept the invitation unless she fared well in the straw poll. She was told she’d have to RSVP Thursday, or she wouldn’t be on the Waterloo stage. She accepted and will share the stage with the new guy on the block.)
Palin, whose intentions are not yet clear, appeared at the Iowa State Fair this morning and is to be a guest on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show at 8 this evening.
She told reporters she wasn’t ready to endorse any candidate just yet, because she’s not sure of her own presidential plans. She did, however, say that “Perry is a great guy.”
Palin had signaled her intention to come to Iowa with a giddy email Thursday to her followers, writing: “I’m excited to try some of that famous fried butter on a stick, fried cheesecake on a stick, fried Twinkies on a stick. I’ll enjoy them in honor of those who’d rather make us just eat our peas.”
That peas reference was an obvious dig at health officials concerned about the health impact of obesity in the country.
Problem? The only problem conservatives see is too much government. Pass the butter, please.
Perry drawing attention
Perry’s arrival in Iowa presumably is being taken more seriously by the candidates, many of whom have spent months — and millions of dollars — in Iowa, trying to attract attention.
The interesting thing about the Texas governor is that he’s seen by many as the sort of candidate who can unite the mainstream portion of the Republican Party with the hard-praying, tax-hating base on the far right.
In normal years, it’s hard to imagine he would be seen as a quasi-moderate candidate.
Despite the killer drought in his home state, he scoffs at global warming.
“[Global warming] is all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight,” he has said.
He also has implied that his state COULD secede from the union, if it chose.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” he said in an interview two years ago on the subject of secession. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. Texas is a very unique place and we’re pretty independent to boot.”
(Texas scholars have scoffed at the notion that Texas has any more right to secede than any other state.)
While Palin and Perry were grabbing some of the headlines in Iowa, the others vying for straw poll recognition continued plugging away — and spending money. (Mitt Romney is making no effort to buy straw poll support; neither is Jon Huntsman.)
Tim Pawlenty, who has spent more money and time in Iowa than any other candidate, appeared at the Iowa State Fair today, cooking up pork chops at the Pork Producers venue at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Both he and Bachmann were to speak — at safely different times — from a Des Moines Register “soapbox.”
Pawlenty advisers downplay straw poll results
His advisers were continuing to downplay the significance of the straw poll results and the entrance of Perry into the race.
They also were using Bachmann’s decision to attend the Waterloo function on Perry’s first day in Iowa as another opportunity to dig at her.
“When people announce [their candidacies],” said Nick Ayers, a Pawlenty adviser, “there’s usually a grace period. But what’s she doing? Running to Waterloo.”
Bachmann’s advisers merely were saying that if Perry wanted to be a presidential candidate, he should have showed up in Iowa before Sunday.
“The interesting thing was that he was not here for the debate,” said Ed Goeas, chief executive officer of the Torrance Group, a survey and research organization hired by the Bachmann campaign. “If he wants to be a factor, why wasn’t he here for the debate?”
Mostly, though, the candidates were trying to be almost gracious during the debate about Perry’s entry into the race.
Ron Paul: “One more representing the status quo.”
Herman Cain: “Welcome. He’s one more politician in the race.” (Cain proudly proclaims he’s a businessman, not a pol.)
Jon Huntsman: “We all need prayers.” (Perry wears his Christian religion on his sleeve.)
Newt Gingrich: “We need to remember, the first delegates aren’t picked until January.”
Pawlenty didn’t get a chance to respond to the question about Perry.
Neither did Bachmann. Instead, she was asked about Palin’s arrival in Iowa and whether that would hurt her. (Hmmm. Could there have been a bit of sexism in Bachmann getting the Palin question, not the Perry question?)
“I like her a lot,” said Bachmann of Palin.
Mostly though, the candidates already in Iowa tried to ignore the Perry/Palin factors. They were busily pleading/cajoling/bribing supporters to come to Ames for Saturday’s straw poll, where there’ll be more speeches, free food and even some unique entertainment.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a blues guitarist and former presidential candidate, is going to perform at three campaign parties, including Pawlenty’s (Huckabee’s daughter works for his campaign).
Huckabee also will accompany Cain, a gospel singer, and play with Buddy Holly’s old group, the Crickets, who have been hired to play at Santorum’s tent.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.