That summer John McCain changed places in the polls with Mitt Romney, but
not the way you might imagine. McCain actually dropped from third to fourth.
On the Democratic side in July '07, Hillary Clinton's lead over Barack Obama
was about 13 percentage points, and the John Edwards campaign had raised $25
million. If only volunteers and contributors had known how much more productive
their summers would have been had they just read books and sipped cocktails at
Now, here we are four years later, doing the same dance, with GOP front-runners
Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.
The former Massachusetts governor has raised over $18 million in just the
last three months, and probably has a greater chance of being the nominee than
Giuliani did at this stage four years ago. Supporters say Romney “looks
presidential”; detractors say he’s plastic, even phony.
More troubling for his candidacy is that Romney's positions on key issues
have changed as often as the summer winds.
Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, has basked in positive press since
the New Hampshire debate, and is now in a virtual tie with Romney in Iowa. A
native of the state, she’ll do well in next month’s Iowa Straw Poll,
further encouraging the hopes of those who take her candidacy seriously.
But Bachmann is merely a pretender. She has no chance whatsoever of winning
the nomination. She's playing for position – as the vice presidential candidate,
or for a Palin-sized payoff on the lecture and book-plugging circuits.
Then there’s Tim Pawlenty, who has been campaigning in Iowa for nearly
two years, yet faces possible elimination from the race if he stumbles badly
in the Aug. 13 straw poll. Pawlenty was underwhelming in the New Hampshire debate,
and his efforts since have been overshadowed by Bachmann’s pizzazz and
As Pawlenty put it on the stump in Ames: “One of the things that voters
in Iowa and across the country want to know is ‘Do you just flap your jaw,
or do you have results that you can back up these statements with?’”
Pawlenty scored just 6 percent in the Des Moines Register poll – nearly
16 points behind Romney and Bachmann. Pizza exec Herman Cain, who has never held
public office, was third with 10 percent.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 7 percent each;
former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 4 percent; and former Utah Gov. and ambassador
to China Jon Huntsman, 2 percent.
Four summers ago, Romney won the Iowa Straw Poll, but then Mike Huckabee won
the Iowa Caucus, and John McCain became the GOP nominee.
Summer campaigns, it seems, are more valuable for weeding out the weaker candidates
than for confirming the eventual standard-bearer. It’s part of the endurance
test that has become essential to presidential politics.
Plus, the media love it, and the public tolerates it.
As the summer of ’07 ended, Rudy Giuliani’s numbers began to melt.
A Romney aide clucked that Giuliani’s huge lead was as real as “Santa
Claus and the Easter Bunny.”
So, is there an actual nominee in this summer’s GOP crop? Or just a
list of future Jeopardy questions?
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.