CPAC straw poll will show Pawlenty, Bachmann's standingsby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — The Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, wraps up today in Washington with the release of a presidential preference straw poll Saturday afternoon.
Yesterday former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke at the convention, ripping President Barack Obama and selling himself as electable "anywhere" given his experience in Minnesota. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke on Thursday.
The question becomes which potential Minnesota GOP presidential candidate is more popular with conservative enthusiasts.
Pawlenty started his speech asking his conservative audience, "Are you fired-up to take this country back?"
And he immediately went after Obama, trying to mix in humor with biting criticism.
"President Obama has succeeded at doing the impossible. He's proven that somebody can deserve a Nobel Prize less than Al Gore," he said.
Pawlenty called for a return to American "common sense," and an end what he called "Obama-sense." Pawlenty hasn't said whether he will run for president but his national travel schedule and tone have him looking a lot like a 2012 GOP candidate.
At CPAC 2011, Pawlenty repeated many of the things he regularly says to Republican groups. He talked about his difficult South St. Paul upbringing, his tax cutting battles in Minnesota, and he made the case for his electability.
"I come from the state of McCarthy, Mondale, Humphrey, Wellstone and now United States Sen. Al Franken," he said during his 30-minute speech.
Bachmann spoke at the same podium for a few minutes longer on Thursday. Both were able to rile-up the crowd, but Bachmann repeatedly had her audience on their feet cheering.
Pawlenty drew just one standing ovation as he lambasted Obama on foreign affairs.
Outside the main ballroom, CPAC goers have been casting presidential preference straw poll ballots since the conference began Thursday morning.
The results of the unscientific poll will give at least an indication of how well each of the potential GOP presidential candidates are selling among conservatives.
Washington University political science professor Steven Smith said even though Bachmann has only recently been among those considering a run, she could well out-poll Pawlenty.
"I think this poll is really a popularity poll and it probably isn't directly a good measure of fitness for the presidency," Smith said, "but it's a place where conservatives seek to send a message to the party. And I think in such a setting Bachmann can do reasonably well."
Bachmann is a big draw and can fire up crowds not unlike the other tea party favorite, Sarah Palin. But some CPAC participants told MPR News they think Bachmann would doom Republican's chances of defeating Obama next year if she on the GOP ticket.
Will Burton, 21, one of many college students attending CPAC, said he thinks Pawlenty is a much more serious candidate than Bachmann.
"I think sometimes she can be a little bit over the top and rather than trying to be a leader she kind of tries to out on her own and do her own thing," he said.
CPAC attendee Diana Banister said she was very impressed with Pawlenty's speech and that based on seeing Pawlenty before, she thinks he is a much stronger candidate.
Still, Banister said she likes Bachmann too, and that Bachmann has huge appeal. "Michele Bachmann is a rock star with this group. I think that people could follow her. I think she might be taking off where -- I don't want to say it..."
...where Sarah Palin left off.