By Kenneth R. Bazinet
Aficionados of political mischief are getting a boatload of the headline-stealing shenanigans this week.
Those Republican rascals, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are stealing the limelight from the nine GOP presidential contenders on the ballot in the hugely unscientific free-lunch vote in Iowa, known as the Ames Straw Poll.
Perry, the rising star of the Republican ranks, was first to strike, letting it leak earlier this week he will fly to South Carolina Saturday, the same day as the straw poll, to declare his presidential intentions at the RedState Gathering 2011, a political lovefest for conservative bloggers.
The gun-toting governor goes to Greenfield, N.H., later that day for a house party hosted by Perry-promoting partisan, Republican New Hampshire Deputy House Speaker Pamela Tucker. Perry is expected to fly to Iowa a day later, leaving little doubt of his political aspiration for higher office.
Not to be outdone and never one to miss an opportunity to rally her roguishness, Mama Grizzly is revving up her “One Nation” bus tour and taking it to Iowa this weekend, as well.
“We accept with gratefulness an invitation to meet folks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines this week,” Palin wrote in an email to her supporters.
“I’m also excited to try some of that famous fried butter-on-a-stick, fried cheesecake-on-a-stick, fried Twinkies, etc. I’ll enjoy them in honor of those who’d rather make us just ‘eat our peas’!” Palin added with dig at President Obama’s “Eat your Peas” comment during the debt battle.
Nine candidates are on the straw poll ballot, but three — former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — are not officially participating in the vote taken on the campus of Iowa State University.
The official participants include Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Thad McCottter of Michigan.
The campaigns buy $30 tickets and hand them out to supporters, who in turn listen to speeches, eat and drink for free and then theoretically vote for the candidate who brought them there.
The Iowa Republican State Central Committee takes the event very seriously and so does the mainstream media, though often with a wink and a nod after hours at their hotel bars.
Sometimes the straw poll gets it right, but it was a bust four years ago when Romney won it and then his campaign went on to collapse like a house of cards in an Iowa twister: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and the GOP nomination went to Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
But for the high-minded folks who see the Ames Straw Poll as a virtually meaningless made-for-TV political junket for the national press corps, take solace: The corporate media is going to pump millions of dollars into Iowa, and in this economic climate that is a very good thing.
Read more from Kenneth R. Bazinet at The Baz File.