While the Iowa State Fair was drawing crowds this past weekend to stroll the grounds, grab a bite of something deep-fried on a stick, and to take a peek at the 100th-birthday-celebrating butter cow, up in Ames on Saturday true believers were gathering for the Iowa Straw Poll.
Nearly 17,000 Republicans gathered for the day of speeches, music, food, and, oh yes, voting.
It's an Iowa event through and through, with family-friendly music and bouncing houses for the kids, and this year beautiful late-summer weather.
But, is it a true picture of who Iowans support?
Michele Bachmann, the fiery Minnesotan with Iowa roots, won the day, with over 4,800 votes, with Ron Paul following closely in second place. The Tea Party darling was the expected winner, and she delivered what supporters expected.
A third place finish was enough for Bachmann's fellow Minnesotan, former governor, Tim Pawlenty to call it a campaign, folding up his tent on Sunday.
The Iowa Straw Poll is an event for party supporters who are passionate enough about the issues they believe in that they travel from around the state for a day of stump speeches and fiery rhetoric.
It's also a good indication of who has the most organized political campaign in the state. Bachmann's campaign staff said they handed out over 4,000 free tickets to the event to help ensure a strong showing. That organization will be important as summer moves into fall, and then winter and Iowa's first in the nation caucus.
But, Bachmann's win doesn't guarantee success in gaining the Republican nomination. Nor does it indicate a victory at the Iowa caucuses.
The Iowa Straw Poll has a poor track record of predicting winners. Only twice, in the past five straw polls, did the winner capture the GOP nomination. Only once, when George W. Bush won in 1999, did the straw poll winner become president.
This year only six nominees bought space from the Iowa Republican party. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was on the ballot, but didn't actively participate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn't even on the ballot. in fact, he chose Saturday to make his official announcement that he was joining the race. He made that announcement in South Carolina.
The Iowa Straw Poll often highlights the more extreme candidates on the ticket, and this year was no exception. It's tough to extrapolate the 4,800 ballots Bachmann received into a win at the caucuses. Finding a candidate interested in consensus building and compromise would have been difficult in Ames.
With more mainstream Republican candidates choosing to bypass the straw poll, it seems that once again the results don't match the constituency of the state.
While Iowa has gained a reputation as an extraordinarily socially conservative state, due in large part to events like the Iowa Straw Poll, it's interesting that Terry Branstad, running as a fiscal conservative, comfortably defeated staunch social conservative Bob VanderPlaats for the nomination and eventual gubernatorial win.
The straw poll was a chance for campaigns to see where they are, and to shake out marginal candidates. It did that.
The real test comes in the next weeks and months as the candidates crisscross the state, meeting in living rooms and library meeting rooms. It's there where Iowans can take a true test of candidates and get behind polished campaign speeches and practiced rhetoric. It's in backyards and at county fairs where we take the true measure of candidates.