The EFM Feature

In the aftermath of Governor Romney’s straw poll victory, NRO’s John Podhoretz wrote a rather emphatic post saying that Ames was, well, meangingless:

I hate to be nasty, but anybody who takes the Ames Straw Poll results seriously is an idiot. A bunch of people spent ludicrous amounts of money to bus-and-truck 14,000 people to a big picnic, and the guy who spent the most bought the win with a mammoth 4516 votes. Goshers! 4,516 votes! Another guy who spent a lot less than the first guy got some people to eat his fried Oreos to vote for him too — 2,587, of them, to be precise. And he’s claiming a big triumph and momentum blah blah blah.
This is ridiculous. The two leaders in the Ames straw poll received a combined total of 7,103 ballots. What exactly is this supposed to represent? If it’s supposed to represent superior organization, then the idea that Romney “did what he had to do” is laughable. I’ve heard reports that Romney has dropped as much as $4 million in Iowa already. And getting 4,500 people on a bus is all he has to show for it? What am I missing?

I hate to be an idiot, but I take the results seriously. To be clear, I don’t think the results mean that the Governor is the frontrunner or even that he will definitely win the Iowa caucuses. Instead, a see the poll as an important step–but only a step.
Interestingly, J-Pod chose to denigrate the very thing that was most significant about the victory: the numbers of people involved. Governor Romney won 4,500 votes in an August straw poll. Do you know how many votes it takes to actually win the Iowa caucuses? Between 25,000 and 30,000. One thing you get from a straw poll victory is engergized supporters, and anyone with 4,500 people energetic enough to risk heat stroke for a non-binding August straw poll has a rather big leg up in the organizational game. Take it from me: straw poll wins are exciting for the people there and tend to suck them into the process in bigger ways.
I agree with Hugh Hewitt. The victory is all part of the plan:

Mitt Romney laid out a plan for winning the GOP nomination months ago, and it included, raising the most money, winning some or all of the debates, and winning the Ames straw poll as the key steps to setting up strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, which would at a minimum keep him in the race through the big February 2 showdown, and which might allow him to land a knock-out blow in South Carolina or Florida.
The plan is rolling out, just like previous Romney plans to turn-around scores of companies, stage a successful Olympics, win the Massachusetts governorship, or reform the health insurance system of the Bay State. Over and over again in Romney’s professional life you see the goal identified, then the analysis followed by the plan followed by implementation in a disciplined and ultimately successful fashion. When I wrote the book and focused on his career for a year, this pattern is ghard to miss: Get a good plan. Stick with it. One day at a time, one milestone after another.

Hugh also sees 4,500 Iowa voters as significant, and he notes the organizational deficiency of the Governor’s competitors:

Marc Ambinder calls the Romney victory “a combination of plod and money,” but that overlooks the 4,516 voters who don’t suddenly disapparate and leave Iowa for good. That’s the spine of the organization that will show up on whatever night in early January the caucuses are held. When Politico’s Jonathan Martin’s post is headlines “Romney Wins Big,” you get the only key fact you need. When Byron York reaches for the conclusion that Romney “seemed a little less the juggernaut than he had seemed just a day before,” you get the sense that many analysts really wanted an upset that didn’t come.
The only other Republican who came out of the Ames contest of organizational skill and volunteer intensity is Mike Huckabee, though not with the close second that would have established him as a genuine challenger to Romney on the right. If the southern governor begins to gather in contributions between now and September 30, he could conceivably be a factor in Iowa in early January, but it might be Fred Thompson more than Mitt Romney who is alarmed by Huckabee’s faithful. Indeed, if Governor Romney had wanted someone to stay strong enough to lower his own expectations in Iowa while creating problems for the still-not-real Thompson campaign, he’d have picked Mike Huckabee.
Fred Thompson isn’t a candidate, but for a candidate-in-waiting-who-will-soon-be-a-candidate, the 203 Iowans who showed up to show the flag doesn’t convey the sense of a wave about to break. When the Giuliani and McCain campaigns formally bowed out they limited the injury to their reputations and perhaps sent a signal to their troops to vote for anyone not named Mitt, but the Thompson “movement” if it is a real “movement” and not a Beltway-MSM pageant, should have had more than 203 excited statement-makers drive themselves to Ames. They didn’t.

Caucus-winning organizations have to come from somewhere. If Iowa matters (and I think J-Pod would admit that it does), then Ames matters. Nothing is decided, but it’s tough to argue that Governor Romney doesn’t now have an advantage in the crucial first state to vote.

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