Was Pawlenty too harsh on Bachmann? Iowans weigh in

Bachmann speaks at Iowa fair
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks to fairgoers at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. Bachmann took the soapbox at the fair along with other GOP presidential hopefuls in advance of Saturday's Iowa Straw Poll.
MPR Photo/Alex Kolyer

Minnesotans Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann are holding separate rallies this evening in Ames, Iowa designed to get their supporters to vote for them in a straw poll tomorrow. Last night their criticism of each other dominated a Republican presidential candidates' debate.

Many people attending the Iowa State Fair Friday either watched the fireworks between Bachmann and Pawlenty Thursday night, or at least heard about their confrontation.

Mike Morgan of Pella, Iowa, was ordering the pork dinner at the Iowa Pork Producers stand. It was also where a lighthearted Pawlenty was making a campaign appearance as a celebrity cook. Morgan said he thought the infighting between Bachmann and Pawlenty was a distraction.

"Both of them wasted more time fighting each other than what they really need to be talking about, the issues," he said. "I hope they kind of stay away from each other and just talk about what differentiates them from Obama."

MPR News is Member Supported

What does that mean? The news, analysis and community conversation found here is funded by donations from individuals. Make a gift of any amount today to support this resource for everyone.

Asked whether he was too hard on Bachmann, Pawlenty defended his debate performance. He said he thinks it gave him a boost going into Saturday's Ames Straw Poll voting.

Grilling Pawlenty
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty mans the grill at the pork tent at the Iowa State Fair Friday, August 12, 2011. Pawlenty took the soapbox at the fair along with other GOP presidential hopefuls Friday in advance of Saturday's Straw Poll.
MPR Photo/Alex Kolyer

"One of the things we tried to convey last night is if you're going to self assign the label 'leader,' then you've got to be accountable for some results, and I tried to point out she really doesn't have any," said Pawlenty. "The country needs a president who actually has delivered on results, not just talked about these things. Because that's the problem we had with Obama -- great speech, but doesn't get the job done."

On the main street that stretches the length of the Iowa State Fair, Andy Pierce of Ottumwa said he was pleased that Pawlenty started speaking up, even though Pierce calls himself a Bachmann fan and plans to vote for Bachmann in the straw poll.

"They all got to take it and dish it out, too," he said. "I think she's been taking a high road and doing really well."

Pierce didn't actually watch the debate. His wife Joanne did, and was a bit taken aback by Pawlenty's tone with Bachmann.

"I just thought it was uncalled for," she said. "I was surprised. I'm not saying it was wrong, but not all of the candidates did that."

Inside an exhibition hall, Joe Best of Norwalk was volunteering at the Iowa GOP booth. He said there are a lot of questions about Sarah Palin's visit to the fair Friday, along with talk about the debate.

Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty
Republican presidential candidates Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
Charlie Neibergall/ASSOCIATED PRESS

"Some of them were really interested in the two Minnesotans going at each other last night, and some people thought that everyone did not get an equal chance to talk," he said.

Best says he plans to ride a Bachmann bus to Ames Saturday to cast a vote for Bachmann in the straw poll. For his part, he says he thought Pawlenty's aggressive treatment of Bachmann made him look less than presidential.

Michelle Booth of Ankeny stopped by the GOP stand to help one of her sons complete the paperwork that will allow him to vote for the first time next year.

Booth said she enjoyed the parts of the debate she saw, describing it as "awesome."

Booth included Bachmann in a short list of candidates she thought did a good job. Booth says she had no problem with the sharp barbs Pawlenty directed at Bachmann.

"She has to deal with it in real life as a politician," said Booth. "She needs to be able to stand up if we're going to be able to vote for her."

Booth said she was pleased to see Pawlenty speak up and show some personality.

Pawlenty supporter Jerry Brown of Knoxville said he's disappointed he won't be able to attend the straw poll. Brown was pleased Pawlenty spoke out during the debate. He acknowledged concern about Pawlenty's prospects, and cited Fox News banter about Pawlenty's viability.

"In terms of some of his speeches, he just hasn't been dynamic enough," said Brown.

In addition to being a test of the candidates' popularity and organizational strength, the Ames Straw Poll might serve as something of a referendum on the Bachmann and Pawlenty debate battle.

The poll rarely predicts the winner of the Iowa caucuses, but often forces candidates who can't demonstrate much support to leave the race.