By Patti Brown
Iowa becomes the center of the political universe when the Iowa Straw Poll comes to Ames. The event is a political festival that celebrates freedom of expression and the privilege to participate in the democratic process of selecting the President of the United States.
In a nut shell, the Iowa Straw Poll a cross between a fair, a parade, a rally, a convention and a carnival. Iowans strut their colors for their favorite candidate and wear their sentiments, literally, emblazoned on their chests, across their backs, and on the top of their heads.
Wearing T-shirts and sporting political buttons, Iowa voters milled around Saturday on a pitch perfect Iowa day on campus of Iowa State University, adding an abundance of ambiance to the festivities. There were even some folks who showed up dressed in costumes of famous patriots. Many carried signs, others toted give-away bags filled with campaign literature from candidates of from one of the many advocacy organizations that also came to promote a cause – energy efficiency, balancing the budget, family values and the sanctity of human life. One man walked up to me and said, “It’s so great to be in a place where I don’t have to apologize to anyone for being a conservative.”
Begun in 1979, the Straw Poll is conducted by the Republic Party of Iowa when there is not an incumbent Republican president in the White House. While the Straw Poll is largely a test of the organization of each candidate to raise money and turn out supporters, and while the results have no official effect the outcome of the caucuses, since 1987 the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll has either won or come in second in the Republican caucus. But that doesn’t always guarantee the nomination or victory in the General Election.
Yesterday’s Straw Poll was the sixth such event. Candidates who previously bid on bits of the Hilton Coliseum parking lot for the day set up tents, table and stages, then tried to woe voters with food and entertainment.
Herman Cain’s campaign served up slices of Godfather’s Pizza while Tim Pawlenty’s camp pulled out all the stops and treated voters to the Minnesota-based Famous Dave’s barbecue topped off with Dairy Queen Blizzards.
Ron Paul entertained children with an inflatable “sliding dollar” slide and the Isiserettes Drum and Drill Team from Des Moines performed on the concourse between Hilton and C.Y. Stephens Auditorium.
Michelle Bachman lured voters with a concert in her large, air-conditioned tent by country-music star Randy Travis. Also appearing for her were Richie McDonald, Tim Rushlow and Charles Billingsley.
Mike Huckabee, who came in second in the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll, was on hand today to play his bass guitar on the stages of several candidates. He jammed in with Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets on the Rick Santorum stage.
Saturday’s total vote count was 16,892, an 18 percent increase over 2007’s vote count of 14,302. The crowd size was estimated at more than 20,000 thousand, plus an additional 800 credentialed representatives of the media from across the country and around the world there to report on the winners, the losers and everything in between.
Come today, some campaigns may fold, others will soldier on until the next big trial—running the gauntlet of the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses in February.
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