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Roger Simon
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Perry Wins! Stays Away!

Comment

Can you win a straw poll by not showing up for it? Sure you can. Texas Gov. Rick Perry proved that Saturday.

While the media flocked to Ames, Iowa, to witness a non-binding, bought-and-paid-for vote, Perry flew to Charleston, S.C., to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.

The media could only fume and stamp their feet and remember a famous ditty from 1899: "Last night I saw upon the stair/A little man who wasn't there/He wasn't there again today/Oh, how I wish he'd go away."

But Perry did not go away. He just stayed away. Ignoring Ames, he entered a field of at least 10 Republican candidates, taking the calculated risk that staying away from the straw poll was more important than attending it.

He is almost certainly right about this. Mitt Romney spent $1.5 million to win the straw poll four years ago, only to lose the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee. This year, Romney skipped the straw poll and saved his money for the real event.

Does this mean Perry and Romney know something the media don't? Not really. They are just more sensible about what they know.

The Ames straw poll has always been fun and rarely significant. The winners almost never go on to become president. They rarely go on to win even the caucuses.

The press knows that and reports that, but it is like a serial killer writing on a wall: "Stop me before I strike again!"

The media can't stay away, but this year their interest grew into an obsession. Rarely has so much been made of so little. Having spent millions of dollars sending reporters, crews and photographers to the straw poll, the media were darn sure they were going to imbue it with significance.

"The epicenter of the political universe!" one network crowed about Ames. Except for the fact that Romney, polling first at 21 percent in national polls, and Perry, polling second at 16.2 percent — even before he announced! — and Sarah Palin, polling fourth at 10 percent, weren't there.

Michele Bachmann, polling third at 10.2 percent, was at the straw poll — and won it — but one candidate does not an epicenter of a universe make.

"By the way, we have learned that Ron Paul is serving hot dogs and baked beans in his tent!" one anchor breathlessly reported.

To its credit, the network did not flash "BREAKING NEWS" on the screen.

"The GOP in Iowa takes the straw poll very seriously!" said another reporter. Nope. Republicans stay away from Ames in droves. More than 97 percent of registered Republican voters found something better to do with their Saturday than go to the straw poll this year.

But when MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked former GOP Chairman Michael Steele what the "value of the straw poll" was, Steele introduced a welcome note of reality by saying: "To make the party money. Beyond that, not much."

And, to his credit, NBC's Chuck Todd, who was at Ames, did hang on to his news judgment, saying on the air that Perry "is the lead tomorrow."

And Perry gave a rip-roarer of a speech in Charleston, speaking with a noticeable Texas twang and eschewing the machine of the devil, the teleprompter.

His two themes were the deity and tea party dogma. "Rights are endowed to every human being by a living God," Perry said. "In America, the people are not subjects of the government; the government is subject to the people."

In Ames, Bachmann used a hand-held microphone and delivered her speech at a pitch somewhere between a shout and a roar. She chose not to speak to the national audience watching on television, but to the Iowa audience in the auditorium who could actually cast ballots.

"Everything you need to know in life, I learned in Iowa. I have always been grateful I am an Iowan, and it is time we had an Iowan in the White House!" yelled Bachmann, who left Iowa when she was 12 and now represents a congressional district in Minnesota.

Along with Iowa, Bachmann loves God. "God has blessedly put His hand upon this nation, and to Him we owe honor and praise and blessing," she said and concluded with, "I love you all! I love you! I love you! I love you all!"

And a plurality of the voters at Ames loved her. How much does it matter?

Huckabee, not a candidate this year and therefore able to speak the truth, was at Ames and said: "Don't assume what happens in the straw poll is tantamount to winning the caucus. You've got to go from here and build on it. It's a platform. It's not a termination point."

Often, it's not even a starting point.

To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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