Ames Straw Poll: A Test of Strength or Much Ado About Nothing?

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No matter who comes out on top, critics suggest that the straw poll is not all that important. Only around 15,000 people usually vote in the event, compared with around 120,000 in the Iowa caucuses come the winter. In addition, victory in the straw poll is hardly a guarantee of success in the caucuses, or in the GOP primary. Romney won in Ames four years ago, but he lost the caucuses and the GOP nomination. Instead, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who came in 10th in Ames after not competing in the straw poll, ultimately secured the Republican presidential nomination. There have only been two Ames winners who have gone on to win the nomination.

But on Saturday, all 10 Republican candidates will be watching the straw poll results closely: The nine whose names will appear on the ballot -- Bachmann, Pawlenty, Paul, Santorum, Cain, Romney, Huntsman, Gingrich and Thad McCotter -- and Perry, whose outside group has been flooding Iowa events this week to urge voters to cast write-in votes for him.

And whatever happens, at least there will be barbecue, pizza, Randy Travis, Dairy Queen blizzards ... and a petting zoo, too.

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