Food, fun and politics in Iowa
By Janine Yagielski/AllPolitics
August 14, 1999
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EDT (2215 GMT)
AMES, Iowa (CNN) -- The tents, the music, the t-shirt vendors, the long lines at the porta-potties -- at first glance, the Iowa Republican straw poll could pass for a rock concert.
Traffic was backed up for miles in the college town of Ames, Iowa as busloads of voters and other interested onlookers tried to get to the campus of Iowa state University on Saturday to take part in the Republican Party's big show. Aides to several campaigns estimated the crowd at around 20,000 as the straw poll event began.
While the doors to the Hilton Coliseum opened at 2 p.m. CDT with a rush of Iowans trying to get in to cast their votes for one of 10 GOP presidential hopefuls, the real action is taking place outside the arena.
"I've come to hear the candidates speak and have some fun and food too," said Julia Phillips of Des Moines, Iowa.
Phillips' husband, John, said although the couple came with tickets from Gary Bauer's campaign, they were undecided and would make a final decision after hearing everyone speak.
"It's nice to be courted," he said.
Multi-millionaire Steve Forbes and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who paid handsomely for their prime real estate in front of the college field house where the event was being held, seemed to be courting the most voters with their elaborate multi-tent, multi-stage set-ups.
Forbes's area defined the family-carnival atmosphere of the day, with its inflatable rides for children, face painting, and air-conditioned tent -- complete with musical entertainment.
The line to sample Forbes's fare stretched out for several hundred feet, and aides for the publisher said his campaign has given out over 7,000 tickets.
Marie Voneshen from Carroll, Iowa said she doesn't mind the big money being spent on the event. "If he (Forbes) doesn't spend it someone else will," she said.
But not everyone thinks the money being spent on the straw poll is a good idea.
Brian Harlin of the GOP Shoppe, the main supplier of political t-shirts and paraphernalia for the event, thinks the Republican Party has "gone too far."
He said there is a sense among the vendors, who have to give 25 percent of their gross to the university, and the candidates who buy his products, that the event has gotten "too expensive to compete."
Despite the festive hoopla, there also seemed to be a significant political dialog going on the in the fields and parking lots around the University.
The Hoskins family of Clarinda, Iowa came to Ames intending to vote for former Vice President Dan Quayle, who called their house personally to ask them to come.
But after hearing Bauer speak, 21-year-old Amy and 19-year-old Andrew decided to split with their mom Denise and vote for the head of the Family Research Council.
Quayle is "not as passionate" said Andrew.
"Bauer is more of a political outsider with strong Christian values," says Amy, adding that Bauer seemed less likely to compromise his beliefs.
John Ortega of Bettendorf, Iowa also came to Ames undecided, but on his way out of the polls, he said the event Saturday moved him from a Bush to a Forbes supporter.
Bush is the "party candidate" Ortega complained, saying he liked Forbes' "independence."