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Romney Jokes About Cheating in Iowa Poll, Dodging Questions

Alternet | August 14, 2007
Garance Franke-Ruta

This post, written by Garance Franke-Ruta, originally appeared on the Iowa Independent website .

Last night, at the pre-Straw Poll " Ronstock " concert at the Bali Satay House in Ames, a Ron Paul volunteer played back a recording of competing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joking about cheating in a State Fair popularity contest, stuffing the ballot box in Ames, and dodging questions across the state.

Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a group which has been shadowing Romney across the state, introduced me to Jeffrey Goines - which also happens to be the name of a character in the movie Twelve Monkeys -- who had been entertaining a group of gun enthusiasts with a recording he says he made at the Mitt Romney pre-Straw Poll rally, also held that evening in Ames. Goines said he attended the event to pass out Paul fliers and was not an official tracker for the Paul campaign.

"Gosh, those Ask Mitt Anythings, how many of those did we have? 46? 47? Unfortunately, people took us for our word," Romney joked, according to a sound clip on the digital recording device. "They asked me anything. There were some truly awful questions. But I, but I tried to dodge most of those. And I, I'll keep on doing that as long as I can."

Dudley, who described himself as "a different kind of gun nut" and carried an iPhone, was appalled by the joke, which he says was inappropriate given the administration's obsession with secrecy.

"This is America!" Dudley said. "The real story is him saying they're dodging questions."

Romney also joked about stuffing the ballot box at today's Straw Poll. "At 7 o'clock they will count the ballots. We will stuff the ballot box, I hope," he said on the recording.

And he joked about cheating in the Corn Poll , the bi-partisan State Fair popularity contest in which attendees are asked to "cast your kernel" by placing a kernel of corn in a jar for their favored candidate to show their support. "I was a little dismayed because I saw Barack Obama, he had a lot of corn in that Mason jar," quipped Romney. "But I was number one - so thanks for cheating!"

UPDATE: Romney Wins Iowa Straw Poll, Huckabee Scores a Surprising 2nd Place Finish

This post, written by Chris Cillizza, originally appeared on The Fix -The Washington Post's political blog

AMES, Iowa -- The biggest political event of the 2007 calendar year gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a victory, but the biggest winner may well be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee , who placed a surprising second.

Romney's 4,516 votes were roughly 2,000 more than Huckabee received. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback came in third with 2,192 votes. Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) placed fourth, while Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) was fifth. Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson , who said he would likely leave the race if he didn't finish first or second, came in sixth. ( Full results are available here. )

The turnout was far lower than in 1999, when 23,685 votes were cast and George W. Bush was the winner. The turnout may have been suppressed by the fact that three of the biggest names in the GOP race -- Rudy Giuliani , Fred Thompson and John McCain -- chose not to attend the event. Republican voters have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the current field in any number of public polls.

The delay of more than an hour in announcing the results led to whispers of impropriety and chicanery -- all unconfirmed. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) sought to downplay any talk of double-dealing in the moments before the results were announced, praising the "tremendous amount of integrity" in the process.

The ripple effect of today's vote won't be known for at least 24 hours, but here are a few of our initial thoughts about what to expect in the days to come from the Republican field.

* Romney did what he needed to do at Ames -- WIN! There will be the inevitable debate about whether he should have won by more given the resources he threw at the event. But that seems to us to be an argument for political junkies, not the average voter. A win is a win. And Romney's victory should cement him as the frontrunner heading into January's caucuses.

* Huckabee knew his back was against the wall, and he pulled out the surprise of the night. On the ground it was evident that Romney and Brownback had spent the most money courting straw poll voters, while Huckabee was working with a far smaller budget (his campaign spent $150,000 or so, according campaign manager Chip Saltsman). No matter how it happened, he got it done. Huckabee's campaign was looking for a spark and they seem to have gotten it tonight. He must -- and we repeat MUST -- turn this surprise showing into campaign cash or it will be for naught. But today is Huckabee's best day as a candidate by far.

* Brownback invested a lot into the straw poll and got little return. Finishing third behind Huckabee makes it tough for the Kansas Senator to make the argument that he is the most viable social conservative candidate in the field. This is a major setback for Brownback and could well lead to his departure from the race in the near future.

* Tancredo's fourth-place finish could well be a triumph for his campaign, which has been mired in the one or two percent range in most of the polling we've seen. His strident opposition to illegal immigration found a ready audience here in Ames, and Tancredo effectively turned that into votes. What does it mean for the future of his candidacy? Probably not much. But all of the frontrunners should heed the power of the immigration issue among Republican base voters.

* Paul's problem in this race was on vivid display here in Ames. While his supporters were fanatically loyal (and loud), not enough of them were from Iowa for him to make a major impact on the race. Paul has a rabid national following fueled by the Internet, but the nominating fight remains a state by state affair.

* Thompson (Tommy, that is) seems to have reached the end of his campaign. The four-term governor never seemed to hit his stride on the campaign trail, struggling to push out his message in a field of better-known, better-financed and more charismatic candidates. If he doesn't drop out in the next few days, we'd be stunned.

* Duncan Hunter finished behind two candidates -- Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani -- who didn't actively participate in the Straw Poll. Need we say more?

The biggest unknown of the race is Fred Thompson's candidacy. Thompson had a small, unofficial presence at Ames, but he is not yet an official candidate and won't be one until after Labor Day. There was some talk here today that Thompson had missed a golden opportunity to slow Romney's momentum in the state by not participating. Maybe. Thompson will be in Iowa next week and we'll wait to pass judgement on his chances here until he has been in the race for a month or two,

Thanks for sticking with us through this great week in Iowa. That's all folks!

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