Republican candidates are gearing up for the Ames Straw Poll Aug. 13 and a debate two days earlier. How candidates do in the straw poll is an indication of their grassroots support in Iowa as they prepare for the first-in-the-nation caucus early next year. The results will likely determine the political future of certain candidates. But media and other organizations have repeatedly taken the pulse of voters in recent months with their own polling. What they've found is Michele Bachmann shooting from obscurity to being a contender with Mitt Romney, who generally leads in the polls. Bachmann plays up her Iowa roots when she's in the state and formally launched her presidential bid here. Although Romney leads the pack, he hasn't necessarily gained more traction in the time Bachmann gained favor with voters after a debate in New Hampshire. That could indicate Republican voters' concerns that Romney isn't really against ObamaCare --- since he pushed through something similar as governor of Massachusetts and hasn't denounced it. As a result, Romney and other candidates --- mostly polling in the single digits --- look like dwarfs next to Bachmann with their diminutive favorability ratings. Many of them still have squishy personas to all but the closest political watchers and their ardent supporters. So, they can easily get characterized by any negative waves they make or anything distinctive about them --- good or bad. "Michele Bachmann and the Seven Dwarfs" engages in some of those characterizations. There's Newt Gingrich's troubled, floundering campaign. You've got Romney and Jon Huntsman who --- along with Gingrich --- won't be showing up at the straw poll as they try to lower any expectation about how well they have to do in it. Despite a lot of effort, Tim Pawlenty's poll numbers haven't increased in contrast to fellow Minnesotan Bachmann. Pawlenty, who sometimes get characterized as yawn-inducingly boring, says he doesn't need to win the straw poll to remain viable, but he does need to have a good showing. Rick Santorum, who's at least competing for Mr. Conservative, has been dogged in recent years by an Internet prank to associate his name with something that would make his supporters blush. Googling his name may cause the uninformed to think there's a sleaze factor with him. Ron Paul may sound too much like a hippie for some Republicans curmudgeons with his anti-war views and some of his other libertarian tendencies. It's been months since Herman Cain made a bizarre and unnecessary pronouncement about Muslims in his administration, but he's still dealing with the fallout. We'll see if the straw poll shows that any of the candidates have moved beyond these perceptions.