How badly can Pawlenty afford to perform in the Ames Straw poll? 

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel asks, "Can Ron Paul Win the Ames Straw Poll?" to which I'd answer: yes. As Weigel notes, Paul is actually trying to win it this time, and bought the most expensive booth available this year, the same space occupied by 2007 straw poll winner Mitt Romney. But an important follow up to this is: how badly can Tim Pawlenty afford to do in the straw poll?

In addition to Paul, the other participants include former Godfather's pizza CEO Herman Cain, a "fair tax" supporter (remember, the fair taxers helped propel Mike Huckabee to a strong second in the 2007 straw poll); Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who has a strong following in Iowa; former Sen. Rick Santorum; and suprisingly, Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Mich.

Romney decided not to compete this year, and Newt Gingrich did not either, given a lack of money.

In one sense, Romney's decison not to compete may lower the importance of this year's poll. But in another sense, it raises the stakes for Pawlenty. If he has any chance of emerging as the anti-Romney candidate, he's going to have to perform strongly in the Iowa caucuses (and in all honesty, he likely has to win). Ames is an important stepping stone on the way to the GOP caucuses, and it's crucial to come away with a solid showing. Yet considering the makeup of the field in Ames and how Pawlenty has been underperforming in polls given the perception that he's a top-tier candidate, it's quite plausible that Pawlenty could end up in third or even fourth place in Ames. And such a poor showing would be devestating to his chances in the caucuses.

Which is to say, Pawlenty's team better have a good strategy going in to Ames.

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