Are you thoroughly bored yet by the presidential campaign? Your civic score will lose no points if you say “yes” to the question and “no” to the growing tedium of Decision 2008.
The most overrated recent event has to be the Iowa Republican Straw Poll, for which Fox News crowned Mitt Romney the “Big Winner.”
The former Massachusetts governor triumphed after spending perhaps $3 million – six times more than the secondand third-place candidates combined. He bused thousands of voters to Ames (where the vote takes place), bought their tickets and fed them. Two of the big boys, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain, weren’t even running.
One other note: The straw poll has zero effect on the delegate count. It’s strictly a fundraising thing for the Republican Party. People have to pay $35 to vote, unless a candidate picks up the tab. Only 14,000 people went to the trouble.
And so what in the name of NoDoz is the significance of Romney’s 32 percent strawpoll vote?
It “vaults” him to the top tier of the race, explained Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
Wow. Imagine the Olympian jump had Romney offered to pay the voters’ electricity bills, as well?
The PBS “NewHour’s” Margaret Warner found a “big surprise” in the race. That was the second-place showing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Guess someone had to come in second. With 18 percent of the vote, Huckabee did not exactly grab a commanding lead over third-place Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who won 15 percent. The “big surprise” was that Huckabee had spent only $150,000 versus Brownback’s $300,000. Both sums, of course, would drown in the Romney money pool.
Romney’s straw-poll victory, then, was about getting 4,400 votes at a cost of around $550 apiece
This is not to demean the Iowa Caucuses. That and the other early electoral event, the New Hampshire Primary, are of immense value to the political process. They give ordinary folks an opportunity to ask questions before the big-buck media campaign kicks in.
But the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are under threat, as other states crowd in on their schedule. In the latest blow against political sanity, South Carolina Republicans have moved their primary to Jan. 15, so as to be 10 days ahead of Florida. That also puts South Carolina ahead of New Hampshire’s tentative primary date of Jan. 22. New Hampshire law requires that its primary precede all others by seven days, which means the contest could move to Jan. 7.
Meanwhile, there’s talk in Iowa of dragging its caucuses from January to December. That raises the horrid prospect of political attack ads invading the holiday season. Imagine “O Holy Night” followed by a seedy low voice saying, “Did you know that Joe Blow raised taxes three times …”
In the traditional order, first comes Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then the Iowa Caucuses. Iowa Gov. Chet Cutler vows to keep it that way: Iowa must be first, but not in December. Good luck to him.
The excitement, you see, isn’t about who should be the next president. It’s about which state gains political influence and bar business by manipulating the primary dates.
The predictable result of this craziness is that more Americans are tuning out of the campaign. Note that Ames drew nearly 10,000 fewer voters than it did in 1999, the last big Iowa straw poll.
Weary citizens are clicking the hold button on the presidential campaign. One hopes that the stupefied electorate will remember to press “play” when its participation truly counts.
©2007 The Providence Journal Co.