On August 13, 2011 in Ames, Iowa on the campus of Iowa State University, the nation’s first political test for the Republican Presidential nomination will take place. It has been billed as “important” and as a “bell weather” event. Over 250 media outlets are expected to be on hand.
In many ways, the Ames Straw Poll is simple. The GOP State Central Committee of Iowa has determined that the names of nine Presidential candidates will be placed on the ballot. This includes the six who reserved space and the three who did not. The latter includes Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Missing entirely will be the name of Governor Rick Perry of Texas who has not yet announced.
On the face of it, the Ames Straw Poll would appear to be a slice of Americana with Iowans 18 years of age and older visiting the Iowa State Campus and casting their ballot for the candidate of their choice. One does not even need to be a Republican to participate.
But upon examination there emerges a much darker picture. It is not about an open nomination process but rather a shabby large-scale fundraiser for the state party disguised as an exercise in democracy. Look at the facts:
1-Candidates in order to participate purchase booths in the poll area for a minimum of $15,000. Ron Paul paid $31,000 for his better location.
2-People desirous of voting must pay $35 per ticket which entitles them to vote, hear the six Presidential candidates who paid, and enjoy a variety of foods and beverages.
3-the Iowa GOP brings in over $900,000 for sponsoring this event.
Further, candidates will buy those $35 tickets for their supporters and they will bus them into the event at no cost. But there is a huge cost to candidates. For instance, in 1999, George W. Bush and Steve Forbes spent over $2 million apiece on tickets and activities according to Conservapedia (http://www.conservapedia.com/Iowa_Straw_Poll). The same source reports that Romney spent up to $1,000 per voter in 2007.
And then we have the attendance factor. Iowa has a registered voting population of approximately 2 million with the following breakdown: Democrat — 710,017, Republican — 607,567 and No Party — 772,725. The total number of people who participated in the Ames Straw Poll in 2007 was 14,302. That is approximately .7 percent of the eligible registered voting population in Iowa.
Now, others have used words ranging from “shakedown” to “bribery” to describe this process. There can be no doubt that it is more reminiscent of Al Capone than Abraham Lincoln.
But that is not my point. The real issue is whether this is the image of democracy that we want to teach our children? Is this the picture of America that we want to project abroad?
The sad reality is that this ugliness survives because we and the national media assign value to it. But the truth is that this petty hustle warrants our disdain and little else.