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When Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared that Iowa was a "full-spectrum state" open to all GOP presidential hopefuls, Brian Duffy put him at the controls of the right-wing aircraft.

The Iowa Bible camp… er, GOP straw poll, that is, will be here before long

COMMENTARY | June 10, 2011

The question is, who’s going to be hurting the most: candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman who are at least partially avoiding Iowa this year, or the Iowa Republican party, if its caucuses fail to pull in a lot of money?

One in a series, "The 2011 Iowa GOP caucuses"

By Herb Strentz

DES MOINESIs this Bible camp?

No, it’s the Iowa GOP caucus!

Fittingly, given the religious orientation of the Iowa Republican Party, the Iowa caucus adventure is beginning to resemble an old-time Bible camp — or maybe a gathering of Boy Scouts or other summer youth festival.

You know, those gatherings where the opening lines of a nonsensical song are followed by “Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”

We’re into the second verse for the Iowa caucuses. It’s a little bit louder; maybe a little bit worse, but still the same song, even with the even with the decision of Mitt Romney to not be a full-fledged candidate and to not participate in the Iowa Straw Poll this time around.

The Iowa GOP still stops damning non-believers every once in a while to proclaim that the caucuses are open to everyone. At the same time, of course, the party faithful declare that any candidate who does not come and worship with them may as well kiss the GOP nomination goodbye. (Let him be anathema, as the saying goes in religious circles.) We'll see how that plays with Romney's exit.

Meanwhile, the press continues to report and catalogue the ascensions, the transfigurations and other actions related to the caucuses with the assumption the news will be relevant to who runs against President Barack Obama in 17 months.

The Iowa caucuses are defended by those who point out that, in general, Iowans are reasonable people, worthy of screening presidential candidates. Such defenses, most recently in a column by Des Moines Register political writer Kathie Obradovich, do not distinguish between day-to-day life in Iowa and GOP party mechanics such as the caucuses, which are controlled by the religious right.

So, in lemming-like quadrennial behavior, GOP candidates and press alike are ramping up for the vaunted Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13. The Straw Poll is the dog-days-of-summer exercise in which the Republicans in Iowa gets to scam the candidates:

“Hurry, hurry, hurry! For only $30 a ticket you can buy a vote for yourself in the Iowa Straw Poll. Only $30 a vote to convince the press that you are a front runner for the GOP nomination. Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Four years ago, GOP wannabees kicked in close to $1 million to the Iowa Republican Party in the Straw Poll won by  Romney. He paid for more than 31 percent of the $30-a-pop votes. (It is not widely trumpeted by the Iowa GOP that Sen. John McCain, who ultimately won the party’s 2008 nomination, finished 10th with less than 1 percent in the ’07 Straw Poll.)

The Iowa GOP is the winner in the Straw Poll; that is one reason they trumpet its importance in selecting a president and, not incidentally, in funding state legislative campaigns in 2012 through the vote-buying gimmickry.

Mixed in with the continuing themes of the 2012 caucus season are new, sometimes confusing elements in the liturgy:

  • A former GOP legislator who once wanted to prohibit same-sex marriages says he now encourages the GOP caucuses to support such unions. Jeff Angelo, a state senator from 1997-2008, announced the formation of “Iowa Republicans for Freedom.” His efforts will be worth monitoring to see if there is any hope for relative moderates regaining a foothold in the Iowa GOP. The Des Moines Register   quoted Angelo: “It is time for conservatives to get back to their roots. Through Iowa Republicans for Freedom, we will begin a conversation about whether our party and our state will stand for true conservative values, or whether we will allow ourselves to get lost in senseless debates that do nothing but demean our neighbors and threaten the rights of our fellow Iowans.”
  • With regard to “senseless debates” and threatening the rights of others, Robert Vander Plaats — a leader in Iowa religious right politics — has disqualified Jon Huntsman from consideration as presidential timber because the former Utah governor and former ambassador to China will skip the Iowa caucuses.    Huntsman says his opposition to ethanol subsidies (and maybe his support of civil unions) make the Iowa GOP caucus a waste of time for him. Vander Plaats also says Angelo’s same-sex marriage effort is “completely out of step” with the Iowa Republican Party platform — some would see as that as a positive, given how extreme and almost laughable the platform is.
  • The platform continues to be alive and well in the Iowa House of Representatives, where the GOP majority continues to advance its social conservative and sometimes unconstitutional agenda. On Wednesday, June 8, the Iowa house passed legislation that would make Iowa the most restrictive state in the nation when it comes to anti-abortion policies.   Despite statements that the religious right in Iowa does have concerns about fiscal issues and job creation, the Iowa House has proposed bill after bill in testimony to the far right and sometimes unconstitutional orientation of those who control the Iowa GOP and the party caucus. The legislation goes nowhere because Democrats control the Iowa Senate.

But the process continues — same song, second verse kind of thing.

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