116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By The Gazette Editorial Board
Our friends in the national media will say what they will about the Iowa Straw Poll. One journalist's key early test of organizational muscle is another's over-hyped boondoggle.
The poll is seen by some as a good read on the current preferences of likely Iowa caucusgoers. Others are convinced that the true definition of American democracy doesn't include an event where campaigns pay your entry fee to the ballot box.
We concede the event has flaws and excesses. Clearly, fake votes shouldn't carry this kind of influence.
But there's also no law that says political reporters must draw deep meaning from this meaningless straw vote. And yet, they have, and will again. There's also nothing that says a candidate who does poorly must swiftly drop out of the race, but they have, and likely will again.
Certainly, Iowa Republicans have played a role in hyping the event's importance. But it's tough to blame a political party for trying to build excitement around its largest fundraiser. Other states complain that the straw poll gives Iowa two “bites of the apple” along with February's caucuses. But when aren't other states attacking our leadoff role?
And if you look past the media circus, past the horse race hype, you'll see Iowans. And it's in their interest and engagement that we find the best arguments for sustaining the straw poll tradition.
Thousands of them will give up a late summer's Saturday to witness and influence the political process. At a time when so many people are disengaged or disinterested in public affairs, it's heartening to see so many Iowans willing to hit the road and get involved.
Sure, campaigns will pay the $30 entry fee for many, perhaps most, straw poll voters. They'll feed them free barbecue and provide plenty of free musical entertainment. Randy Travis is scheduled to sing. One candidate is even offering a petting zoo.
Vote-buying? Perhaps. But who says politics can't be entertaining and fun? The straw poll is in some ways a throwback to a time in American history when political events and speeches were a popular form of entertainment. The fun side of the straw poll circus also encourages Iowans to bring along their kids, giving them a memorable introduction to presidential politics.
So we can debate the merits of the event's significance and argue over whether it carries too much weight. But the straw poll brings Iowans together with men and women who would be president. And that's what the caucus campaign is all about.
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