Every four years, the pointlessness of Iowa returns. Why on earth would a state that has 3 million people — 91 percent of them white, and just a quarter of them college-educated — be the bellwether, be all and end all of American politics?
And yet there it is, quadrennially, front and center. Hence, this past weekend, when all eyes turned to that most prescient presidency predictor: The Ames Straw Poll.
Soon-to-be president Michele Bachmann swept off with the top prize, but only after eating her body weight in corn dogs. The political powerhouse, a congresswoman from Minnesota, crushed Rep. Ron Paul, a lawmaker since 1814, by a vote of 4,823 to 4,671 — a whopping 152 votes.
The worst candidate in the Republican field (another Minnesotan, home of Walter Mondale, named Tim Pawlenty), came in third. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-HasBeen) pulled out a fourth. A pizza magnate came in fifth.
The Man Who Will Be Nominated — Mitt Romney — finished a paltry sixth. The Man Who Will Nearly Be Nominated, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, got just 4 percent of the vote (in his defense, he had been a candidate for only a few hours before Iowans cast their ballots).
And the most qualified Republican candidate for president — Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who twice balanced the budget and forced President Clinton to sign welfare reform — won only 385 votes out of 16,892 cast. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was once governor of a tiny western state who joined the Obama administration, got 0.4 percent of the vote (he ought to find and personally thank every one of the 69 people who supported him before he skulks into obscurity).
Because, see, that’s really all there is to the Iowa Straw Poll. The winner most definitely does not move into the White House — Iowa voters have been right just once since the poll debuted in 1979, when George W. Bush took the 1999 straw vote, the caucuses five months later, the nomination, and the presidency. Ames just clears out a bit of the detritus, kills off the weakest of the weak.
The Bachmann win likely means just what the Romney win meant three years ago. Mr. Romney, flying high, beat out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a steamy and sticky Ames, only to lose to him in the much more important caucuses several months later. The former Massachusetts governor went on to lose to Sen. John McCain a week later in New Hampshire, and he abandoned his quest the first week of February.
But take a step back. No, the Ames Straw Poll doesn’t mean much. But on the other hand, a Bachmann win there does mean something. She, more than any other Republican candidate (including non-candidate Sarah Palin), represents the Tea Party. And her win this weekend means that the groundswell that swept the nation during health care reform and right through the 2010 elections is still alive and thriving.
Anyone who thinks that America is not still very angry will be horribly surprised come November 2012. Mrs. Bachmann, she don’t like nothin’. She opposed the Iraq surge, voted against the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, rejected light-bulb socialism, hated the Obama bank bailout, and oh, realllly despises Obamacare.
But please. Michele Bachmann vs. Barack Obama? Not going to happen. Pulling out a win in Ames in 2011 will be just like the Romney win in 2007. She won’t go anywhere.
Still, she has tapped into the still-smoldering infuriation across middle America. Along with Mr. Paul, she owns the ideas that will drive 2012. Her stances are the cornerstone of the Republican platform of 2012. No one else in the race speaks to the heartland as she does, strips down the past three years of bailouts, buyouts and baldfaced lies of Mr. Obama.
So perhaps this time, the pointlessness of Iowa isn’t so trivial after all.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.