With Brett Neely:
(Washington) — Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, drew even support in the presidential straw poll of conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Washington over the weekend. But both were far behind front-runners Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who drew 30 and 23 percent of the vote respectively.
The Minnesotans each received just 4 percent of the vote. Some view the straw poll results as something of a bellwether for how much support a candidate draws from conservative grassroots activists.
“It’s a straw poll, not a scientific poll so it gives some evidence of where activists are on these questions,” said David Keene the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, the organization that puts on CPAC, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.
But Keene cautioned not to read too much into the poll results.
“It does have a degree of accuracy in terms of both the feeling at the time on the part of conservative activists and, just as importantly, the openness of the conservative community to candidates,” said Keene.
Washington University Political Science Professor Steve Smith called the poll a popularity contest and probably not a good measure of fitness for the presidency. Still Smith said it’s a contest potential presidential candidates want look good in.
Even though Pawlenty has been positioning himself for a presidential campaign for a lot longer than Bachmann, Smith says the outspoken congresswoman poses a tactical problem to Pawlenty’s effort to attract attention.
“She’s on some counts a mile behind. She’s not nearly as well organized as Pawlenty is for the effort,” said Smith. “On the other hand, she has a lot more money in her bank account and a greater capacity to raise money and attract attention than does Pawlenty. And there are going to be quite a few folks who are thinking we only need one candidate from Minnesota.”
Some CPAC attendees think there’s less of a gap between the two candidates.
“I think they are both equally viable,” Said Diana Banister of Falls Church, Virginia. “I think that [Bachmann] has potential because she’s been on television, because people know her especially with the tea party movement. I think people could follow her.”
Another Midwesterner drew the attention Brian Hamel of Watertown, Connecticut. His straw poll vote went to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels who, like Pawlenty, has not said whether he will run for the GOP nomination.
Hamel said he thinks many people who like Daniels would gravitate toward Pawlenty if Daniels does not get into the race and Pawlenty does. Hamel thinks Pawlenty has a stronger organization and would be a more viable candidate than Bachmann, even though Bachmann is a crowd pleasing speaker and a successful fundraiser.
“I think a lot of the things she says maybe aren’t comfortable for the entire country. Certainly the conservative tea party base is comfortable with it, but in terms of winning the election, I don’t know that she’s the best candidate to represent America,” said Hamel.
Another candidate who energizes the tea party base is Ron Paul. Sam Swedberg, a 22 year old college student who attends St Cloud State University, was at this year’s and last year’s CPAC to support Ron Paul.
“There’s a strong movement here for Ron Paul, it was like that last year. It’s more about principle. They’re tired of the talking points. They want someone that actually follows through. I think that’s why Ron got more support again this year, like he did last year,” Swedberg said.
When asked about Pawlenty, Swedberg had little to say.
“I don’t think so, not as it stands right now. I mean he’s kind of coming out of nowhere. For us in Minnesota, we all know who Tim Pawlenty is, you know, Mr. T-Paw, but when I talk to people about Tim Pawlenty, I don’t think people really know who he is.”
As for Bachmann, Swedberg said she has more of a crowd behind her than Pawlenty but he doesn’t think Bachmann is viable because she’s such a polarizing figure.