Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty‘s presidential campaigns will face a critical test with next week’s Iowa straw poll. Both candidates are looking to use it as a springboard to victory in next year’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
In recent days there have been more signs that Pawlenty’s campaign is struggling. CNN reported that a top policy adviser, former National Economic Council director Al Hubbard, has left the campaign. It was also widely noted that Pawlenty’s pulling his radio and TV ads from the Iowa airwaves just three days before the straw poll in order to focus on grassroots organizing. While the strategy makes sense, it suggests that money is an issue for the campaign. Pawlenty expects to travel 1,300 miles and hit 26 Iowa towns in the week prior to the straw poll.
The polling numbers continue to look dire for the two-term governor: he registered just one percent in Public Policy Polling’s survey of Nevada Republicans. Pawlenty also raised eyebrows by refusing to endorse an anti-gay marriage pledge that Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all signed. Despite these difficulties, Pawlenty still finished third in the National Journal’s poll of beltway insiders, one spot ahead of Bachmann.
Bachmann is, by almost all accounts, the frontrunner to win the straw poll. But that can be a perilous position to be in given that one of the main goals of the political beauty pageant is to exceed expectations. If Bachmann doesn’t end up at the top of the heap, her finish will be branded disappointing by the punditocracy. ABC News quotes an anonymous GOP operative suggesting that Bachmann’s Iowa operation is not in tip-top shape. Here’s the quote:
I think Ron Paul or Tim Pawlenty is going to win this thing, and Bachmann is going to come in a disappointing third. Church groups and home-schoolers have not all coalesced around her campaign like they did for Huckabee last time. And her campaign hasn’t figured that out yet. They don’t know what kind of trouble they’re in. If they don’t figure this out in the next 10 days, then I think this could be the beginning of the end for her.
So far Bachmann’s campaign has proven scandal-resistant. The Hill concludes that the issue of her migraine headaches has actually played out favorably for her presidential bid. But Fox News commentator Juan Williams argues that Bachmann should be taking more heat for her comments suggesting that black farmers are fraudulently benefiting from federal farm aid.