Monday, August 13, 2007

Maryland Needs a Little Turkey in the Straw Poll

A recent GOP treasury report indicates Maryland's Republican Party is clinging to life support, its coffers dwindling toward bankruptcy. Apparently, their annual Red White and Blue Dinner didn’t produce necessary funding.

Don’t tell me the minority party pins its financial stability on one annual fundraiser?! No wonder Maryland is dominated by Democrats.

Time for those folks down on Church Circle to study their well endowed brethren in the Hawkeye State. Even with a pitiful turnout of 14,302 (compared to 23,685 in 1999, not to mention the Iowa State Fair same day attendance of 98,207), pundits anticipate last Saturday's straw poll raising about a million smackers for GOP breadbaskets. Not bad for a one day haul on the picturesque grounds of Iowa State. Since 1978, this “political state fair for Republicans” has become the first litmus test measuring campaign strength, organizational abilities, and momentum building of GOP candidates. What more could a state party desire?

Let’s start with top-tiered candidates paying the per person $35.00 admission fee. Not exactly vote buying -- participants are free to vote for the candidate of their choice -- but a pretty hefty price to ensure supporter turnout. That alone could put Maryland Republicans in the black.

Getta loada dat buttahReminds me of these gobs of grease. Freebies littered the straw poll like wads of paper surrounding public waste baskets. Like a big fat butter sculpture in a spraying tent set in front of the University’s Hilton Coliseum, wrapped in free yellow t-shirts, handing out free barbeque from local smoke pits, under a colossal-sized tent with its own performance stage, within eyesight of a free climbing wall and inflatable children’s slide, with a free bus ride to and from the event ... um.... wait a minute. That was Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney finished first with about 31.6% of all votes cast. Quelle surprise.

Hilton Coliseum is home to each candidate's mock nominating convention. They rally inside, attempting to whip supporters into a political frenzy. Ritzy tent locations like the ones erected closest to the Coliseum run $25,000.00 per, while less desirable spots cost as much as $15,000.00. Now that’s a lot of butter!

Personally, I think former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, and Arizona Senator John McCain were wise to skip the event. As the only candidates whose family values wouldn’t pass muster with social and religious conservatives, their financial resources could be better spent. Predictably, Thompson’s absence didn’t stop FredHeads from setting up shop. Despite his undeclared status, Thompson garnered 29 more votes than participating candidate Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Earth to Hunter. When you're beaten by a guy who isn’t even sure he’s going to run, it's time to throw in the towel. Give it up while you can still use the money to campaign for re-election. Ditto, businessman John Cox. Three other candidates who didn’t pay for a tent, a snow cone machine, or admission tickets finished ahead of you. Time to purchase that one-way ticket back to Chicago. At least former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson got the message, admitted defeat, and moved on. Cheer up, Tommy. Senior law partners still have appeal and look great in briefs.

For what it’s worth, here’s how Iowa's non-binding straw poll separated the men from the boys:

1. Mitt Romney – 4,516 votes
2. Mike Huckabee – 2,587 votes
3. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback – 2,192 votes
4. Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo – 1,961 votes
5. Texas Congressman Ron Paul – 1,305 votes
6. Tommy Thompson – 1,039 votes
7. Fred Thompson – 203 votes
8. Rudy Giuliani – 183 votes
9. Duncan Hunter – 174 votes
10. John McCain – 101 votes
11. John Cox – 41 votes

Johnny B. Goode got the crowd rockingIn keeping with his Baptist minister roots, Huckabee likened his second place finish to a parable from the New Testament. More likely, the Elvis impersonator rallied Huckabee's support. Rock star appeal is the theme of Election 2008. I'll bet Iowans were also smitten by Huckabee playing bass guitar. As for Tancredo and Paul, those are the real stories. Too bad the national news media didn't give either candidate much attention.

Traditional pundits say the straw poll didn't amount to a hill of beans. Less than 2.5% of active Republicans participated. That’s a huge gap from the number anticipated at Iowa's winter caucuses. According to Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University, "68% of those who voted wanted someone other than Romney, even if they didn’t participate in the event." Stressing the lack of participation by Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and McCain while factoring Romney’s campaign spending along with the amount of family stumping, Romney's win was a Pyrrhic victory. But pundits fail to acknowledge the event's fundraising caliber. It's a clear winner for Republicans. A piece of fat to chew on and that's no beef.

Getting back to Maryland, I'd hate to see the Republican Party tank before 2011. Now that the District of Columbia has scheduled a January primary, there’s nothing stopping Maryland Republicans from planning a summer straw poll of their own. Fear The TurtleUniversity of Maryland's Comcast Center would be the perfect venue. With its "Fear the Turtle" centerpiece positioned outside, Republicans could easily imbue a Maryland straw poll with an electric competitive vibe.

I hope someone is listening. Especially since the Party's annual Red White and Blue Dinner left their cupboards practically bare.