MARTY RUSSEL: Iowa: All the politics money can buy

By Marty Russell

Leave it to a hayseed state like Iowa to hold a straw poll that essentially determines who will survive the first round of winnowing out presidential candidates for the rest of the country to choose from. That’s democracy for you.
Of course, this year it was only Republicans Iowans had to choose between and what a choice it was. If the GOP had a theme song for the upcoming presidential election it would have to be, “Send in the Clones.” Just like Hollywood whenever it thinks it has a winning formula, it just keeps cranking out sequels. Mitt Romney is Obama 2.0. Michelle Bachmann is Palin 2.0. And newcomer to the race Rick Perry is Bush 2.0. What a choice.
The Iowa straw poll, while certainly non-binding and really a non-event for most serious voters, already has cost the Republicans one candidate, Tim Pawlenty, who bowed out after coming in third. You have to wonder how serious the former Minnesota governor really was about the race if he’s throwing in the towel based on what less than 17,000 Iowans think.
And speaking of costing Republicans, obviously Pawlenty and the rest of the field hadn’t figured out just how a straw poll works. You buy votes. I know that sounds like a radical concept in American politics but apparently it works every time. How else do you suppose Bachmann came out on top in a 10-man field? She may talk about cutting spending but not when it comes to herself.
According to news reports, Bachmann spent more than $1 million to buy the Iowa straw poll. First she hired country music star Randy Travis to come in and entertain her “voters.” Then she paid to bus in Randy Travis fans on the condition that they had to cast a vote in the poll and it had to be for her. And since participants in the poll had to pony up $30 each in order to cast a vote (democracy, according to Mark Twain, “is the most expensive and nefarious form of government,”) Bachmann paid for 6,000 of her supporters to vote, about 2,000 of whom never showed up. That’s about $180,000 at $30 a vote.
And, in the end, she only beat out the second-place winner, Rep. Ron Paul, by 152 votes. Paul, it has been reported, only paid the $30 voting fee for about 4,700 of his supporters.
So what does this all mean? Maybe Randy Travis should run for president? Maybe we should forego elections and just sell the position to the highest bidder? Or maybe we should do away with the dog and pony shows like Iowa and just have a series of serious debates followed by single, nationwide primaries all held on the same day and then a general election.
That gets my vote.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu