Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Beauty Pageant

You may or may not be aware that today marks the Iowa Straw Poll.

Unarguably the second most idiotic political tradition in America (the first being the casting of the first ballot in the New Hampshire primary, which is now fading fast in relevance), the Iowa Straw Poll is a popularity contest that candidates voluntarily enter every four years. It is not binding on the caucuses held early in 2008 (which actually choose the winner of Iowa's delegates), and since not every candidate is entered in the cotillion, begins to take on the look of choosing the Runner Up to the Iowa Corn Queen.

Appropriate, since the poll is basically conducted like a state fair, with people paying $35 to listen to rock bands, enjoy rides and, yes, vote for the person who paid their admission! Why is this considered at all a relevant political turning point?:
AMES, Iowa (Reuters) - Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and a handful of lesser-known rivals hunted for votes in Iowa on Saturday at an informal straw poll that offered the first big test of the 2008 White House race.

Iowa Republicans began lining up at mid-morning to vote in the nonbinding mock election, with Romney an overwhelming favorite to win and several candidates slugging it out for a second-place finish they hope will vault them into contention.[...]

The straw poll, an Iowa tradition since 1979, is an early test of a campaign's organizational strength in the state that holds the first nominating contest. It often thins the field of weaker candidates and gives the winner a temporary shot of momentum.
Only Republicans could imagine a way of using money to winnow candidates out: if you can't afford to buy enough votes to maintain your place in the field with respectability, you get out now.
"I can't buy you, I don't have the money," [Former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee told the Ames crowd. "I can't even rent you."
And yet...
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has said anything less than a top two finish will finish him, and several other candidates could face similar decisions.

"We've got a tremendous opportunity to show the country that Iowa, not the political pundits in Washington, make the selection," Thompson told supporters jammed into his tent.
Right, Tommy. I think it's so cute that you believe that! Iowa makes the selection...the selection the pundits and moneychangers pay them to make!