Behind the frivolity of (yesterday)'s Republican straw poll -- the banners, big tents, barbecue and rollicking music -- is a stark truth: This could be the last day as viable candidates for several of these men. For those who do poorly, this informal vote of a relative handful of hard-core Republican activists is likely to herald bad press, an end to fundraising and the death of their campaigns.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has admitted as much, telling his supporters that he will drop out of the race if he does not win here. At his modest tent, diehard fans said they felt the pressure.
"We came two and a half hours to come here on a blisteringly hot, sweaty day," said Craig Damerval, 44, an Iowa correctional officer from Winfield, in southeast Iowa. He said he knows about Thompson's pledge, but added that "I hope he's in the top three, anyway."
Alas, poor Duncan. We hardly knew ye:
By (today), the gimmicks may no longer be enough: The guy standing on stilts for California Rep. Duncan Hunter, because "he rises to the occasion." Or the red, white, blue and yellow hot air balloon for John Cox, who offered supporters a chance to win a trip to Rancho Vanencia villas in Southern California.
Who in the hell is John Cox?
There were a couple of winners here in the cornfields, and Romney was hardly one. Mike Huckabee's second-place finish not only kills off several of his rivals in single-digit territory but gives him a shred of credibility going forward. He defeated John Birch Brownback, who apparently had the only air-conditioned tent at the party (somehow I find it hard to believe that Mitt Romney forgot to buy a tent with A/C) ...
Even Brownback's decision to have the only air-conditioned tent today may not help him much if too few people cast ballots for him here.
For Romney, the risk is not of dropping out, but of embarrassment. Like the rest of his slick, polished campaign, his presence here practically exudes his wealth: a huge, professional stage for musicians, a tent outfitted with flat-screen televisions, and hundreds of volunteers.
As midday neared, Romney communications director Matt Rhoades nervously described the straw poll as "a war of attrition" and worried about how to make sure his supporters actually wait in line to cast their ballots.
Yes, not very many of them did cast their ballots, all right. Forty thousand attended, 14,000 voted. I'm guessing 50,000 plates of barbecue were consumed. What a bunch of free-loaders.
Did I also neglect to point out that Barack Obama polls better among Iowa Republicans than several of these poor sweating conservatives?