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Iowa Remains Deeply Unsettled as Straw Poll Nears

By Scott Conroy - July 22, 2011

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"It's not too late for either of them to get in," Dallas County GOP Chairman Rob Taylor said of Perry and Palin, noting the power of social media to help make up for lost ground. Taylor paused for a second before adding, in a moment of candor, "In fact, maybe it was too early for some of the others who have been in."

The Perry buzz has been particularly palpable lately, as the easygoing Texan has become the latest unannounced candidate to garner the fascination of Iowans who have greeted the current field with a collective shrug.

In a recent incident that highlighted the tension between state officials who want to preserve the Ames Straw Poll's quirky traditions and those who fault the state party fundraiser for its archaic rules (which come across as silly to outsiders), the Iowa branch of Americans for Rick Perry -- a 527 advocacy group designed to generate interest for his potential candidacy -- earlier this week was unexpectedly denied the opportunity to purchase space for the August event.

A state party spokesman said that the ruling was a clear-cut case of the group having missed the deadline to reserve space, but the pro-Perry organization had a different take.

"In effect, the decision was made to prohibit our participation," Craig Schoenfeld, the group's Iowa executive director, told RCP.

Pawlenty's Last Stand?

Though he has worked relentlessly to downplay expectations in Ames, Pawlenty cannot escape the reality that the straw poll figures to make or break his campaign.

He has become fond of pointing out that he entered the race officially just two months ago, but Pawlenty has been working Iowa since 2009 and has thus far has little to show for it.

A senior campaign official told RCP that the Pawlenty camp has invested about $1 million in advertising, direct mail, transportation arrangements and other straw poll-centric ventures. The number is far smaller than what former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doled out in advance of his 2007 Ames victory but it nonetheless surpasses what Pawlenty's competitors have spent and suggests an implicit acknowledgment of the do-or-die situation he faces.

A win in Ames -- or, just maybe, a close second-place showing -- could finally provide some momentum for Pawlenty, but anything less would likely be regarded as the first nail in his political coffin.

Pawlenty is currently winding down the first leg of a two-week Iowa bus tour, in which he has increasingly relied on warning caucus-goers to vote with their heads, not their hearts.

"One of the messages we're trying to convey to Iowa -- they've got this deserved status and important status as first in the nation, but Iowa doesn't just want to be first, they want to be right," Pawlenty told reporters in Indianola on Wednesday after addressing a politely subdued crowd of 40 people at a town-hall meeting.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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