The short-straw prognosis

What happens after Iowa?

Published August 10, 2007 6:14PM (EDT)

We know what's going to happen at Saturday's Iowa straw poll: With Fred Thompson, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani sitting out the contest, and with Mitt Romney shelling out millions of dollars to assure victory, the former Massachusetts governor is going to walk away with a win in the entirely symbolic vote.

What happens next?

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson says he'll bail out of the presidential race if he doesn't finish first -- not gonna happen -- or second.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee used to say he'd have to "seriously ask" himself whether he'd "keep going" if he doesn't finish in the top three, but now he's giving himself a little wiggle room. "It's not so much the positioning, but a lot may depend on the separation," Huckabee said on a call with reporters Thursday. "If there's only a few votes that separate positions two, three, four and maybe five -- but let's say two, three, four -- that positioning may not matter as much as that you're within that grouping."

Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford says Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback simply has to beat Huckabee in Iowa in order to "stay alive," but Brownback's campaign says the straw poll is neither "make or break." The candidate himself opts for the weightlifting metaphor: "You do the straw polls like power lifting, and you get it up to your shoulders," he says. "Then the caucuses are where you lunge it."

Whatever that means.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Mike Huckabee Mitt Romney Sam Brownback R-kan.