MAD DOG: Drawing Straws in Iowa

In their quest to show that they can be the most impatient organization in the country -- a title previously held by Macy's, which actually advertised a Dancing Santa on August 13th using the line "Only 134 days 'til Christmas" -- the Iowa Republican Party went and held their primary straw poll. This, for those of you who were too busy fighting the crowds at Macy's to see the news, is the political event where candidates spend a lot of time and even more money, well, buying votes. It's true. It's legal. And it's really too bad they don't do it in my neighborhood.It's a simple concept, really. They bus people from around the state to Ames, Iowa, then feed them, entertain them, and pay their $25 entry fee, all in the hopes that they'll be so grateful for not having to spend another night in Davenport that they'll vote for whoever that person was who bought them. I mean, brought them. This is very similar to the technique ex-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley used to get himself elected for so many years, except of course in Iowa the voters have to be alive.Finding these straw pollers isn't as easy as it might sound. After all, they had to locate people who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night than wear silly hats and listen to repetitive speeches, weren't afraid of losing their place in line to see the Blair Witch Project two weeks from Friday, and most of all, actually cared about an election that's a full 15 months away when they know there won't be an election booth left working after the Y2K bug eats us all for New Year's breakfast.As you may have heard, Texas Governor George W. Bush won. No big surprise here. After all, he is running as a legacy and, as anyone who's ever seen the movie Animal House knows, that means he's a shoo-in no matter how dorky he is, how bad his grades were, or whether he used cocaine in college, even if he didn't inhale. On the other end of the straw poll spectrum was Dan Quayle, who came in eighth out of nine, trailing Steve Forbes, talk show host Alan Keyes, and even Gary Bauer, a candidate no one's ever heard of, least of all his campaign manager.The fallout was swift. Lamar Alexander, who wasted some of the best plaid shirts of his life running for president, dropped out of the race the next day, and he even beat Dan Quayle. Arizona Senator John McCain called it a victory, which it was considering he was the only one smart enough to skip the straw poll and save his money. And then, of course, there were the 25,000 voters who were wined and dined, going home happy in the knowledge that they did their part towards making this the longest and most painful campaign in American history.You have to feel for these candidates. After all, it can't be easy running for President. Day in and day out they travel to strange cities, walking around shaking hands, kissing babies, and begging for money. If you or I did that we'd be arrested for assault, sexual harassment, and panhandling.And do we appreciate what they're doing? Of course not. This is a country where more teenagers can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. (Hint: taxation, scandal, and waste.) It's a country where 60 percent of parents say becoming president is a bad career choice. And it's a country where a dead candidate can beat a live one. Well, in Oklahoma they can anyway.It's true. Just last August, Jacquelyn Ledgerwood managed to capture 21 percent of the vote in the Oklahoma Democratic Senate primary, this despite the fact that she died six weeks before the election. This showing was good enough to get her on the ballot for the run-off. True she didn't win, but it wasn't for a lack of dying. I mean, trying.In Nevada, on the other hand, you don't even have to exist to win an election. They figured that as long as you can gamble and buy sex legally there you might as well be able to vote for "None of these candidates" if you want, so it automatically appears on every ballot. In last year's state primary, Candidate None -- who probably used "Nowhere Man" as a campaign song -- actually beat out 17 of the 33 real candidates. Now that's embarrassing.Of course, even if None did win an election he, she, or it couldn't legally take office. The legislators made sure of that. Maybe they got a little nervous when, during the 1980 presidential primary, "None of these candidates" got more votes than either George Bush or Ted Kennedy.Which brings us back to George Bush the Younger. He may think he's sitting pretty just because it's been a slow news month and the media decided a coronation was in order, but he'd better watch his butt. Especially in light of the fact that no candidate who's won the Iowa straw poll has ever made it into the White House.But all's not lost for him. If by chance he gets beat in the primary he might consider changing his name to None of These Candidates. At least that way he'd still have a chance of winning in Nevada. And you have to admit, it's a better way to win an election than using Jacqueline Ledgerwood's method.

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