I have never been to Iowa. I’ve barreled through Iowa on a fast-moving train on my way west, but that was a longtime ago. What remains of that train ride is a faded black and white memory of miles of cornfields and quaint train stations. It is a picture of an America much like those first few black and white minutes of the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz, stark, bleak, aged, a cruel contrast to the vivid colors of that over the rainbow Munchkin Land Dorothy crashed on impelled by the power of a whirling cyclone.
Ironically, the reality of Iowa is the vivid colors of the over the rainbow Munchkin Land Dorothy discovered on her way to Oz. Iowa is in fact a red, white, and blue state, the Currier and Ives heart of Americana whose landscape is painted green with cornstalks and golden with wheat fields.
There in this kaleidoscope of color, as happens whenever there’s a contest for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, impelled not by cyclones but by politics, politicians and the media land in this heart of the corn belt for some…well…corniness.
Yes folks, welcome to The Iowa Straw Poll, that relic of Americana where country music is the backdrop, corndogs and apple pie the promise, the show: the Republican hopefuls for the office of the American presidency starring in a colorful display of theatrics much like the one created by the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.
While really not as ancient as it sounds, The Iowa Straw Poll, officially The Ames Straw Poll, was first held in 1979. It is non-binding and has no official consequence on the presidential primaries. Its organizers would like everyone to think that it tests the candidate’s organizational skills and it can aid the candidates nationally by helping to build momentum for their campaigns. Not to be overlooked is the reality that The Iowa Straw Poll is also a major boost to the local economy and for the Iowa Republican Party, a highly-lucrative fundraising event.
Since its founding, the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll has gone on to win the Republican presidential nomination two out of five times. Three out of five winners have gone on to win that other throwback to simpler times, the Iowa Caucuses. Only one winner of the straw poll has gone on to win the presidency. George W. Bush won the straw poll in 1999, followed up by winning the Iowa caucus, the GOP nomination and the presidency. Let’s all sing…”and there’s a note with a lump in my throat when I speak of that wonderful guy…” Oy!
So, yeah, the Iowa Straw Poll is corny. No it’s not the great predictor of who will win the Republican nomination. It’s a slice of Americana that barely exists today except in America’s heartland, surely not in Washington, D.C. It’s a colorful display of politics as we wish it would be, and rarely is anymore. It lets us pretend even for a moment in picnics and Mr. Deeds, in politicians who really do care about America and her future.
About those black and white moments at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. They weren’t filmed in black in white rather on Sepia Tone film, the black and white a grand, old optical illusion alas, like The Iowa Straw Poll and Americana.