Fringe Iowa straw pollers sure know how to pick a winner - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Fringe Iowa straw pollers sure know how to pick a winner

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Karl Frisch is Democratic political strategist and can be reached at

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2011 10:30 am | Updated: 11:41 pm, Fri Aug 19, 2011.

Let's face it - Iowans do little to prove their sanity when it comes to these Republican straw polls. It is as if they go out of their way to give lift to the most extreme, unelectable nuts among their ranks.

Before the straw poll in Ames became a Republican tradition, it was showing early signs that it didn't have a hope of identifying the eventual nominee. It was 1979, and Ronald Reagan would go on to lose to his future vice president in the first Ames Straw Poll. Reagan eventually won the presidency and now serves as the right's golden calf.

In 1987, Pat Robertson won the second Ames Straw Poll. Yes, the same Robertson who now spends his time affixing blame for natural disasters and terrorist attacks. To him, massive earthquakes hit Haiti in 2010 because the nation "swore a pact to the devil" and gay men, lesbians and feminists caused the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

At the third Ames Straw Poll in 1995, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm tied eventual GOP nominee Bob Dole with Pat Buchanan coming in a close second. Buchanan did well despite his decades-long history of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Hitler-coddling and Islamophobia. Most recently he claimed the views that motivated anti-Muslim Christian extremist Anders Behring Breivik to kill more than 65 students at a youth camp this summer in Norway "may be right."

Four years later, there was an Iowanomoly of sorts when then Texas Governor George W. Bush won the Ames Straw Poll and went on to win not only the Iowa Caucuses but the Republican nomination and presidency as well. That hadn't happened before and it hasn't happened since.

Of course, rounding out the top four finishers that year were the likes of publisher Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer. Forbes spent nearly $70 million - money left to him by his deceased and closeted gay father - pushing an anti-gay, anti-choice platform, which was capped off with a proposed flat tax that would have cut his taxes while raising those of the working class. Bauer is now the nearly forgotten, Gollum-looking culture warrior who is best remembered for falling off of a stage in Iowa while flipping pancakes.

Sen. John McCain - the GOP's eventual nominee in 2008 - came in 10th place out of 11 candidates at the fifth Ames Straw Poll. Who beat him? People like anti-immigrant former Congressman Tom Tancredo who said last year that President Obama is a greater threat to the U.S. than al-Qaeda. He finished fourth.

So, should we be surprised that tea party darlings Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul did so well at the Ames Straw Poll held this month?

Central casting couldn't have created a better-suited pair for the deranged Iowa straw pollers.

First, we have Bachmann, who one-upped former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's kooky claim (Paul Revere warned the British that they better not take our guns) with her own bizarre claim that our founding fathers wanted to end slavery. She's even infamously called on the media to Joe McCarthy her colleagues in Congress for being "anti-American."

Though she won't answer questions from the press regarding gay men and lesbians today, the Minnesota Congresswoman has had harsh, hateful words for the LGBT community in the past. She's called being gay a "sexual dysfunction" and said if marriage equality were the law of the land, parents would be unable to "protect" their children.

Then there's Paul, whose solution to every problem from potholes to the economy is a sprinkling of Libertarian magic dust. He claims to be against discrimination but has said he would have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights act had he been in Congress at the time. The view isn't surprising.

Throughout the 1990's the Texas Congressman published newsletters with racist sentiments like this one explaining the end of the 1992 Los Angeles riots: "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks."

Robertson, Buchanan, Forbes, Bauer and Tancredo may have faired well in the straw polls of Ames, but their views, records and public statements would have doomed their chances in a general election.

Fortunately for us all, like the laundry list of also-rans before them, Bachmann and Paul will never make it to the straw poll of all Americans.

• Karl Frisch is Democratic political strategist and can be reached at

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