By Gary P Jackson
Some rituals in politics both amaze and befuddle me. Straw polls are one of them. Oh, they are fun, and we all report on them, but what do they really mean? Not much. Most in person straw polls are conducted at events where a group of folks, who paid to attend, are offered a chance to vote for a candidate of their choice. Many don't even bother, others are actually paid to attend these events, specifically to vote in the straw poll, in order to help their candidate win.
Ron Paul's bunch has been doing this for years. It's why he wins all of these things. They've made a joke out of CPAC with all of their shenanigans.
Mitt Romney's people have learned how to do this as well. In April of 2010 we covered Romney's Louisiana [Straw Poll] Purchase at the annual Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. At the time we pointed out that this particular poll was beyond meaningless as Senator Bill Frist had won it in 2009.
Both Romney and Paul had bought tickets in bulk, at $119 a pop, and gave them away, on the condition you voted for them. In the end one single vote separated the two, more or less a tie. We also noted SarahPAC was there. Though not actively buying tickets [or votes] they were handing out tasty treats to one and all. Governor Palin came in second behind Mitt and Ron, and was first choice on the second ballot.
We ended the article with this observation:
Romney- Buys 500 $119 tickets= $59,500 =TIE FOR FIRST
Paul- Buys 800 $119 tickets= $95,200 =TIE FOR FIRST
Palin- Buys 500 Caribou Jerky= $1,500 = SECOND PLACE
WHICH ONE IS FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE?
WHICH ONE GOT MORE FOR THEIR MONEY?
You can read more here.
That brings me to Iowa, and the Ames Straw Poll. It's a great event, and it allows Iowans to see the participating candidates up close and personal. It's also used as a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party. And the ticket prices are a very reasonable $30. It's all good.
The part I don't get is the ritual of vote buying. Or better put, knowing about the vote buying, why would anyone take this straw poll and it's winners seriously, or look down on the losers? Candidates openly buy votes. It's part of the ritual.
Here's how it goes. Candidates buy up tickets in bulk, and hand them out so people can attend the event. Most campaigns will even bus attendees to the event, just to get their vote.
Michele Bachmann, who won the straw poll, reportedly handed out 6000 tickets, $180,000 worth, and got 4823 votes. As Ed Morrissey at Hot Air put it: "Not exactly a big endorsement." Oh, and that $180,000 doesn't include whatever the Bachmann campaign spent on the buses [plural] to ship folks over to vote.
Ed: The fun of the Ames straw poll came to an end this afternoon as the ballot count shows that 16,892 votes were cast, and Michele Bachmann (4823) won a narrow victory over Ron Paul (4671) — less than 200 votes difference. Tim Pawlenty finished in a distant third (2293), followed by Rick Santorum and then Herman Cain. Bachmann comes away with a win, but not by much — and since reports had her giving out 6,000 tickets to the event, it’s not exactly a big endorsement.
Rick Perry, like Mitt Romney, was not on the ballot. However his group put together an effort to do a write in campaign, trying to make it seem like there was a "grass roots ground swell" of sorts. Perry's astroturf efforts netted him 718 votes. A bargain at $21,540 as he got about the same media coverage for his astroturf efforts as Bachmann did actually working the Iowa crowds!
Organize4Palin was also in Ames with a booth, but they purposely stayed away from the straw poll, choosing to respect it's intent, and shooting down any attempt to do an astroturf write-in campaign similar to Perry's. Instead Iowa4Palin is focused 100% on winning the Iowa caucuses. The vote that actually counts.
Here's a great interview with Pete Singleton, the O4P coordinator for Iowa, that details the work they doing.
We know the Ames Straw Poll is tradition and respect that. It's obviously a good way for real people to get an up close and personal look at someone who might just be the next President of these United States!
I just find it hard to take the poll serious. Especially since the winner of the poll rarely wins the Iowa Caucus, or moves on to be President. Rare meaning, by my research shows George W. Bush is the only one to pull it off.
I guess my biggest issue, besides the fact people take this poll seriously, is the money spent. Presidential campaigns run on money. Other people's money. Is spending other people's money this way the best way to go, especially if you claim to be a fiscal Conservative?
Don't know, you tell me.