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Tea party gets boost from straw poll results, but takeover isn’t imminent

When Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) took first and second, respectively, at Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, they weren’t the only victors; Iowa’s tea party movement, and particularly social and religious conservatives within the movement, mobilized to bring their voices on issues to the forefront.

But pundits find it unlikely similar voices will crop up throughout the nation, the tea party movement’s boost may be short-lived, and mobilization in one contest does not represent a new divide in the Republican between fiscal moderates and social conservatives. As Iowa State University political science professor Dr. Steffen Schmidt put it: “Bachmann gave the tea party (in Iowa) a boost, but Iowa is a more concentrated ‘tea’ than other states.”

Bachmann is the founder of the congressional tea party caucus and typically considered a beacon among activists in the movement. Second-placing Paul has been long called the “intellectual grandfather of the tea party.” The pair embody less government regulations and desire for limited government, but in Iowa, analysts say, tea party ralliers have a different element: social conservatism on issues with voters who want a candidate to stand for their religious — typically Christian — values.

“Some of the groups here in Iowa crossover a bit more into the social issues and that works well for Bachmann,” Dr. Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa, said. “Overall, this works well for the tea party among Republican voters, as it keeps those issues in the forefront.”

“Although I would argue that social conservatives do not dominate Iowa politics the way some national media outlets seem to suggest, they are clearly more important to the political conversation here than, for example, in New Hampshire,” Hagle continued. “Thus, even though economic and fiscal issues will likely dominate the 2012 election cycle, social conservatives will still want to be sure that the person they support is at least acceptable — if not perfect — on the issues they care about: abortion, gay marriage, (and) home schooling.”

But Saturday’s straw poll doesn’t signal a divide or winds of change within the Republican Party, both Hagle and Schmidt speculated.

“That Bachmann and Paul finished at the top in the straw poll it certainly seems to give a boost to the status of the tea party and its issues, but that doesn’t really result in the notion that some combination of social conservatives and tea party activists have taken over the Republican party (in Iowa),” Hagle said, likening the “takeover” charge to a flavor-of-the-week.

“Although I would argue that social conservatives do not dominate Iowa politics the way some national media outlets seem to suggest, they are clearly more important to the political conversation here than, for example, in New Hampshire,” he continued. “Thus, even though economic and fiscal issues will likely dominate the 2012 election cycle, social conservatives will still want to be sure that the person they support is at least acceptable — if not perfect — on the issues they care about: abortion, gay marriage, (and) home schooling.”

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