Straw Man

Ron Paul is this year's Straw Man.

Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas Republican who ran a quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, was the top vote-getter in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll, capturing the support of 31 percent of those who participated in the contest.
There were even boos as CPAC attendees saw the results.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had won the CPAC straw poll for three consecutive years, took 22 percent of the vote. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won 7 percent and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty 6 percent. Pawlenty attended the conference; Palin did not.
That's not bad for Mitt. Of the viable candidates, he's the front runner.
By finishing well above Palin and Pawlenty, Romney clearly remains well-positioned among the sort of conservative activists who attend such conferences as CPAC. Having already sought his party’s presidential nomination once, and retaining many of the supporters he had in 2008, Romney enters the early going of the 2012 race as something close to a frontrunner.
But the Paul win is bad for the straw poll, if indeed the poll matters at all.
CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.
There really isn't a candidate who pulls together everything that energized conservatives need. He's got to be someone like Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin representative who is strongly conservative, and can express conservative values while still sounding like he's part of the modern world.
But the results of the straw poll, though imprecise, indicate that conservatives are not entirely happy with the field of likely candidates mentioned two years before the first balloting. Fifty-three percent of those who participated in the contest said they wished the GOP had a better field of candidates. Forty-six percent said they were satisfied with those now seen as possible presidential candidates.
Are you shocked that Palin didn't do better? As appealing as Sarah is in general, her decision to pursue life as a celebrity rather than a leader, and her utter disinterest in improving her hand at talking policy, are marginalizing her politically.
While Palin’s decision not to attend the conference may have impacted her single-digit showing, her modest finish underscores the degree to which she is not seen as a serious presidential contender by the most attuned activists in her own party.
Which may be just fine all around - Sarah may be thrilled to be where she is today without concern over presidential possibilities. What about Pawlenty?
Even though he and his aides sought to downplay the poll, Pawlenty’s finish represents a disappointment for the 2012 Republican who has worked the most aggressively in the last year to make a name in party circles. Besides Romney, Pawlenty is the only potential candidate with the makings of a campaign infrastructure.
Is the big loser the candidates who didn't do better, or the straw poll itself?
But given Paul’s win and the minimal effort made to contest the straw poll by the mainstream candidates – unlike in years' past there was no campaigning by them to rally support – the results don’t offer the window onto the organizational strength of the hopefuls offered by past polls. Forty-eight percent of those who participated in the contest indicated that they were students and the divergent reaction to the results reflected the outcome.
While the straw poll makes a good headline, it doesn't much matter.