A Campaign in Iowa: Plenty of Pork and Politics
The GOP straw poll was the final resting place for many a pig and probably more than one campaign
Confession. The day began at 10:30 a.m. with a corn dog and ended many hot, sweaty hours later with a tasty pork cutlet sandwich. In between, there were servings of homemade vanilla ice cream, two bags of well-salted popcorn, and a pulled-pork sandwich from Famous Dave's BBQ.
Yes, as always, the Iowa Republican presidential straw poll—held in every contested presidential election year since 1979—was the final resting place for many a pig and probably more than one campaign.
And though Saturday's sweltering big-tent, all-day carnival on the grounds of Iowa State University ended with a bit of early-evening electoral excitement—Mike Huckabee wins! (No, wait: Mitt Romney won, by a lot. Huckabee unexpectedly "won" second)—the day was just as much about free food, music, long shots, and another meat, this one red, served up by candidates to Hawkeye State loyalists who seemed to need a bit of bucking up.
Abolish the IRS. Ban abortion. Support gun ownership and the Second Amendment. Throw out illegal immigrants, and build a fence. The opening musical act at anti-illegal immigrant crusader Tom Tancredo's tent featured a barbershop quartet of aging white men dressed up for the occasion in sombreros and ponchos.
Enough said about that. Much more to say about the day itself.
The Winner. The Romney campaign isn't saying yet how much it spent to organize, entertain, feed, rent buses, and purchase tickets at $35 a pop to get supporters to the straw poll, where the ticket buys you the opportunity to vote. Over $1 million is a very safe bet. "Pay to play—that's really what they're doing here," tsk-tsked Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, who infiltrated the event. Truth be told, Brennan was invited by state Republicans—surely an example of "Iowa nice." Brennan freely worked the halls of the Hilton (no relation to Paris) Coliseum, where the candidates were allotted 15 minutes each to sell themselves to the crowd.
Romney's spending showed. In an area the size of two football fields, and in prime space just outside the Coliseum, "The Nadas" played a morning folk rock set on a festival-size stage, kids scaled a rock-climbing wall or jumped in a moon bounce, while supporters in yellow Team Romney T-shirts loaded their plates and searched for shade to eat their pork sandwiches, beans, pasta salad, and cookies.
The Romney family—the five sons and Dad in chinos, Mom in pearls and blue skirt—made periodic appearances. "We've been touched by the people in Iowa," Ann Romney said. (And gosh darn it, we've shelled out more than $440 per vote to get you here! She didn't actually say that.) Candidate Romney, mobbed for autographs, may have had a hair out of place, an aide joked to one reporter, though it wasn't apparent to the naked eye.
"This is a great state, I'll tell you what," Romney said before he wheeled around to shake more hands and unexpectedly came face to face with New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney. "I don't want to shake your hand," the candidate joked. It was a joke, right, Governor? Joking aside, it was an exceedingly good day for the Romney family patriarch.