The myth of Mitt Romney

With his confident style and crowd-pleasing smile, Ames, Iowa, straw-poll winner Willard Mitt Romney looks like a formidable contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. If he’s lucky, he can leave voters so dazzled that they ignore his record.

Rather than see stars, Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston’s Northeastern University placed Romney’s rule as Massachusetts governor beneath their statistical microscope. Let’s hope what they discovered is not contagious.

Working the labor vote

Peel back the label of all the top Democratic presidential contenders, and they want you to see two words in big, bold letters: “Union made.”

The candidates weren’t soft-pedaling their support for organized labor at the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO convention in Waterloo on Wednesday.

They bragged about marching in picket lines. They each touted the labor movement as the thing that won American workers better wages, shorter work weeks, better working conditions and the like.

The Iowa free food poll

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.

Dealing with inevitability

History keeps hope alive for former Sen. John Edwards.

He is on the campaign bus again this week, rolling down some of the same Iowa highways he has been traversing for years now.

But when a reporter brought up the aura of “inevitability” surrounding the national front-runners, Edwards leaned forward and offered a flashback to 2003.

It was around this time that summer, when he was driving down these Iowa highways still trying to get recognized, that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean looked like the Democrat’s likely nominee.

Moving at breakneck speed

Late-night conference calls, Sundays spent in the office and a diet served in takeout bags are the hallmarks of the final weeks of a presidential primary campaign.

They’re already the norm in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa — and it’s only August.

“We think it’s nonstop now?” says Mike Dennehy, Sen. John McCain’s national political director. “Once we hit Labor Day, it’s going to be blazing fast.”

Optimism, chaos & confusion

The Iowa Straw Poll has left the Republican presidential contest as crowded and chaotic as the carnival-like crowd scene outside the building where the votes were cast.

As expected, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the most votes in Saturday’s symbolic test of campaign organizing strength in this first-in-the-nation caucus state.

But in the more critical expectations game, there were so many other declarations of victory that the GOP field is likely to stay as muddled as ever.

War on terror a defining issue

The fate of President George W. Bush’s global “war on terror” is on the line, as the 2008 White House race heats up and Democratic and Republican hopefuls feud over how to keep Americans safe.

Republicans endorse Bush’s approach, warning of the stark menace of Islamic fundamentalism, and agree with the president’s view that Iraq is a central front of the struggle.

Adopting Bush’s 2004 election playbook, they also accuse Democrats of failing to even comprehend the mortal threat from terrorism.

Hillary’s negatives worry Democrats

Looking past the presidential nomination fight, Democratic leaders quietly fret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of their 2008 ticket could hurt candidates at the bottom.

They say the former first lady may be too polarizing for much of the country. She could jeopardize the party’s standing with independent voters and give Republicans who otherwise might stay home on Election Day a reason to vote, they worry.

Tommy Thompson drops out

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said Sunday he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination after finishing sixth in an Iowa straw poll.

“I have no regrets about running,” he said in a statement released Sunday evening by his campaign.

“I felt my record as Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services gave me the experience I needed to serve as president, but I respect the decision of the voters. I am leaving the campaign trail today, but I will not leave the challenges of improving health care and welfare in America.”

Romney wins Iowa straw poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won an easy and expected victory in a high-profile Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll on Saturday, claiming nearly twice as many votes as his nearest rival.

Romney had been expected to win the test because he spent millions of dollars and months of effort on an event that was skipped by two of his major rivals.

Romney scored 4,516 votes, or 31.5 percent, to outpace former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who had 2,587 votes, or 18.1 percent. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback was third with 2,192 votes, 15.3 percent.