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The first event in the GOP Presidential Carnival of Crazy occurs today - the Ames straw poll. While no delegates are awarded, the Ames event is viewed as an indication of who has a good organization on the ground in Iowa - since turning out your voters, by whatever means necessary, determines the outcome.

Three of the last five winners of the Ames Straw Poll have gone on to win the Iowa caucuses – George W. Bush in 1999, Bob Dole in 1995 and George H.W. Bush in 1979 – and all but the elder Bush went on to win the GOP nomination the following year.

Washington Post

Candidates can be written in. The following, from the official Ames Straw Poll website, is the list of candidates on the ballot.

• Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann
• Herman Cain
• Congressman Thaddeus McCotter
• Congressman Ron Paul
• Governor Tim Pawlenty
• Senator Rick Santorum
• Speaker Newt Gingrich
• Governor Jon Huntsman
• Governor Mitt Romney

In order raise money, the Iowa GOP sells booths whereby the candidates may harangue passerby. The best booth location is the one right outside the front door, obviously, and Ron Paul has that spot, having spent $31,000 to obtain it.

Many of the candidates are also speaking today. From the official site, here is today's roster of speakers:

   
* Noon- Program Begins
    * 12:15- Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn delivers remarks
    * 12:20- Governor Terry Branstad delivers remarks
    * 12:30- Chairman Strawn welcomes all candidates on stage (press shot)
    * 12:40- Senator Rick Santorum delivers remarks
    * 1:00- Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds delivers remarks
    * 1:15- Congressman Ron Paul delivers remarks
    * 1:40- Congressman Steve King delivers remarks
    * 1:50- Governor Tim Pawlenty delivers remarks
    * 2:10- Senator Chuck Grassley delivers remarks
    * 2:20- Congresswoman Michele Bachmann delivers remarks
    * 2:40- Congressman Tom Latham delivers remarks
    * 2:50- Congressman Thaddeus McCotter delivers remarks
    * 3:15- Herman Cain delivers remarks

I have bolded the actual candidates.

The following candidates are phoning it in, since they are on the ballot but not speaking.
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and John Huntsman.

Mitt and John probably know they have little chance of winning over the social conservatives - although Mitt did win in 2007. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, I feel is just running for President as a mechanism for flogging his books and videos. That's the more charitable explanation - the more cynical one is that he's transferring money directly into his own pocket.

The following candidates are not even on the ballot:
Gary Johnson, Fred Karger, Buddy Roemer, and Rick Perry.

Perry can be explained by his late entry, and the other three probably can't afford to pay to play.

Analysis:
Top 3 will probably be Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Paul, not necessarily in that order.
Romney and Perry don't need Ames to be taken seriously.
Bachmann does need Ames and the Iowa caucuses, but probably can carry on due to her national support if she fares worse than expected.
Pawlenty had better finish close to the winner today or he's done.
Paul is regarded as having the best organization and should pull out a top 3 finish.
Santorum has been tireless in working Iowa and is the dark horse most likely to pull off a surprise top 3 finish.
Cain and Huntsman will be reassessing their campaigns based on finishing out of the money in Iowa.

Poll

Who will today, and by how much?

24%23 votes
22%21 votes
2%2 votes
22%21 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
4%4 votes
0%0 votes
2%2 votes
11%11 votes
11%11 votes

| 95 votes | Vote | Results

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