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August 14, 2007

What Was It?

Roy Meachum

The carnival at Iowa State University over the weekend had absolutely nothing to do with the nation's democratic process. Regard the $35 price to vote. Something like that could have occurred to Republicans from that corn-fed state.

Compared to 1999, the last time the GOP had no incumbent president to support, participation fell a third: down to approximately 15,000 from 24,000.

Only GOP-registered residents could participate, but media reported lots of plates from all over the Middle West. We can assume liberals were not crowding the highway. The weekend's emphases were on abortion and gay rights: Iowa Republicans are "agin" both.

Nobody has come up with what the Saturday-Sunday hoedown cost, but Mitt Romney was the biggest spender. Guess who come out ahead? The ex-governor, of course.

Significant candidates for the right to succeed George W. Bush didn't bother. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain lead that list, followed by the will-he-won't-he former senator from Tennessee. Word now is that Fred Thompson will finally declare next month. We'll see.

Turns out the shindig was a big fundraiser for the Iowa GOP and it came up a winner. First guesses estimate the party's take topped a cool million. Not bad for a carnival side-show that has nothing to do with democracy, as I said.

>From a state population that numbers nearly three million, more than half Republicans, Mr. Romney received a whopping 4,516 straw ballots. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee rated 2,587. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback wound up third, with 2,193.

Fellow Midwesterner and Wisconsin's ex-governor Tommy Thompson fell far short of his supporters' hope. He said, in advance, he would drop out if he didn't make the top two. He didn't, and he did.

The question still lingering this morning: How much did Mr. Romney benefit from his fellow Mormons in Iowa? There is a goodly number, although the exact count is not available.

With their sense of clannishness that has helped them survive, I can't imagine LDS members staying away, especially since their man had the deep pockets to pay their way. And Iowa traditionally has enjoyed the benefits of providing a place to live for large numbers of Joseph Smith's followers. In central Iowa alone, there are enough to put the straw poll firmly in Mr. Romney's pocket.

Less than 2, 000 ballots separated the winner from the second-place Mr. Huckabee. The post-vote preening and posturing in Mr. Romney's camp seems much to do about very little, from my perch on North Market.

If you're trying to figure the estimated costs, here are things to consider. Both Mr. Romney and the former Arkansas governor took similar sites for their main tents, at roughly $25,000 each. Nearly 400 buses were hired. The attendees soared to 40,000 (many came in their own car, trucks and SUVs). There was food galore and maybe booze, but not under Mr. Romney's auspices. Mormons do not drink booze and coffee, under their dietary rules.

Since only around 15,000 were official delegates; how much do you guess each vote cost? Even with all the wealth in Salt Lake City, the former Massachusetts governor could not buy the national Republican nomination, never mind how liberal he is.

As governor, Mr. Romney backed a woman's choice on abortion and gay rights. He now opposes both. The rationale behind the switch: Ronald Reagan did the same.

But Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan and Iowa's straw poll should be treated as a GOP fundraiser. That's all.

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