The Last Straw Poll

Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy told a radio host this week that he's been listening to a recording of 1930s wind-sounds, and that his son observed that those winds sounded more authentic than contemporary breezes.

Republican presidential straw polls are supposed to test the direction of that party's leading windbags (aka gaseous flows). But what to do when there is no direction? A slew of these polls have so far produced results that reflect few votes and no trends.

Earlier this year, Republican straw polls were won by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, historical revisionist Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour--none of whom is running. They're so chaotic that perhaps, contra Bob Dylan, we'd better start looking for a weatherman to tell us which way the wind is blowing.

Things swung into gear, pundit-wise, when Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll on August 13 with 27 percent of the votes. Many in the media saw this victory as a confirmation that Bachmann might be heading for the first tier of candidates. That very day, of course, Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race. Bachmann's poll ratings -- barely above single digits to begin with -- took a dive and haven't stopped plunging since.

A nation's lonely eyes turned next to Florida, where Republican governor Rick "Voldermort" Scott predicted on the eve of his state's contest, "Whoever wins this straw poll on Saturday will be the Republican nominee and I believe the Republican nominee will be the next president. I really believe whoever wins this is going to be the next president."

So it was hardly surprising that commentators went nuts when Herman Cain swamped the field in the Florida straw poll. His 800 or so votes -- approximately the number a student council candidate might need to win a high school election -- prompted Fox's Carl Cameron to speak for many a Beltway gabber when he said Cain's victory was a "huge, huge win." The Cain-mentum was confirmed two days later when former comedian Dennis Miller endorsed the pizza magnate. Miller, who once upon a time had a way with words, suggested "Cain Versus Not Able" for a bumper sticker. (An equally important endorsement development came late this week when Barry Manilow abandoned his prior support for Ron Paul in favor of President Obama.)

Bachmann, meanwhile, disappeared into the Everglades, winning 40 votes, only a few more than the number of foster kids she's raised.

As for Mitt Romney, he may have lost big in Florida but he won big in the next day's Michigan straw poll. The Wolverine State is one of several Romney calls home (the richer you are the more houses you can buy/states you can call home). One pundit noted bizarrely that "the results reinforced Florida's results with Romney winning big." The Mittser received about the same number of votes Cain got in Florida.

Homophobe and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum handily won his home state's straw poll on April 9 with a mighty 138 votes. The heavyweights, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, got 98 and 71, respectively. Here, candidates who finished in the single digits percentage-wise came perilously close to having their actual vote totals in the single digits.

Ron Paul, barely acknowledged when he got only 152 votes fewer than momentarily-anointed superstar Bachmann in Ames, won the California straw poll with 374 votes, overwhelming Rick Perry (244) and Mitt Romney (74). Herman Cain did somewhat less well on the left coast, with a total of 15 of the state's 37,253,956 residents giving him the nod.

Several days ago, I conducted an informal straw poll in our house. President Obama -- who neither campaigned on our property nor treated us to any barbecue -- won a massive victory, pulling in 100 percent of our two votes, though for one of us it was a tough call.