And the Iowa Republican straw poll proves exactly what? That in politics money talks? But we knew that already.

Mitt Romney, who The Washington Post reckons spent $817 per vote, won with 31.5 percent of the vote. This is something less than a mandate, considering that only 14,300 showed up despite the candidates’ blandishments of transportation, free food and live music.

But it was not the decisive, clear-cut victory Romney had been hoping for, especially considering the millions he spent leading up to this highly artificial event.

Mike Huckabee, who finished second with 18.1 percent, claimed a moral victory because he spent less than $100,000. (Remember when $100,000 would not only buy an election but get you a landslide? The prices these days to fix an election will just kill you.)

Former preacher Huckabee said the result “really was feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves.” Actually, the number was 2,587, and a famished Huckabee supporter could always wander over to the giant Romney tent for free barbecue.

The straw poll, which actually has a spotty record picking presidential talent, lost some of its luster because two of the biggest names, Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain, skipped it and a third, Fred Thompson, isn’t in the race yet. Romney and Huckabee said it was because they were afraid they’d lose, although maybe it was just because they found the whole thing embarrassing.

The straw poll is open to any voter with $35 and an Iowa driver’s license, and the candidates are expected to pick up the $35. Giuliani is said to have privately called the straw poll a “shakedown” and, Giuliani being from New York City, his judgment on these matters should be respected.

Iowans defend the straw poll as important in culling the field of candidates, although it’s not clear who among the rest of America’s voters asked them to perform this function. And the straw poll did, sort of, cull. Tommy Thompson dropped out of the race after receiving 7 percent of the vote. But Duncan Hunter, with 1.2 percent, and somebody named John Cox, with less than 1 percent, are made of sterner stuff, and as far as anybody knows they’re still in.

Political pundits insist the Iowa straw poll is an important first step in how we choose our presidents. That’s really scary when you think about it.

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