What Happened at the Straw Poll

Ames, IA--The voters at the straw poll are not food sluts. They wouldn't stand in line to gorge on free food just for the food--would they?

"Morals are very important to me," said a woman with elaborately curled hair. I believed her, even if she was standing in line for the Bachmann Barbeque while wearing a Ron Paul t-shirt because she struck the exact same note as my third grade teacher, who had terrified me.

And if the lines of free food (provided by the desperately smiling candidates) could be considered an indicator, then we all knew by roughly noon that the winner would indeed be Michele Bachmann. Her line was about two hours long. You could get on Space Mountain faster than that. And the competition, food-wise, was tough. Santorum had pork patties. Pawlenty had pulled pork. Cain had--what else--pizza.

The results went like this: Bachmann, Paul, Pawlenty. This matched with how well organized the campaigns were, too. By far, these three had it together. They even had games. Paul's was a fun slide thing called "The Falling Dollar."

So who voted for Bachmann? Old people. Young people with six kids. That was my completely unscientific sampling, but I did ask for about three hours as Iowans entered and exited the polls. "She's a fighter," was the most common refrain. My own assessment is that her campaign team is formidable: professional and smart. Her husband kind of bodychecked me out of the way--I am a pesky reporter, and those aren't so popular after the recent New Yorker and Newsweek profiles, but I'm going to assume he didn't mean to, it was just that kind of day.

What does this say about the people who voted for the congresswoman? The Iowa straw poll voters, by and large, are primarily concerned with morality. This came up again and again, and when I asked if "morality" included "fiscal responsibility," I was frequently corrected. "Biblical," one woman clarified.

In an equally unscientific survey in greater Ames, outside the straw poll, I found the majority to be consumed by the issue of the economy, jobs and (brace yourselves) global warming. This was not the typical "heartland" stuff you expect to hear.

In fact, at the state fair--a very big deal, because it is the 100th year of the giant cow made of butter--quite a few people approached me after spotting my press pass. I was watching a young man slurp down a stick of fried butter doused with vanilla icing when a blonde woman (name withheld) made a beeline for me.

"We're not all concerned about moral values," she said, assuming this is what I heard all day. "Make sure you write that." She, too, was worried about the economy ("Make sure you write that"). Meanwhile, the kid eating the stick of fired butter threw up behind her.

--Michele Mitchell

Note: We did ask the questions submitted on the Film@11 Facebook page for our upcoming "Common Sense" series. Watch for previews!