One-thousand nine-hundred sixty.
After crisscrossing the muggy state of Iowa for months, that’s the number of votes Tom Tancredo managed to wring out of the much-hyped Republican Straw Poll in Ames yesterday. One-thousand nine-hundred sixty. Otherwise known as 13.7 percent, or fourth place.
Traditionally, the straw poll has been considered an early, non-binding litmus test of the GOP field. But when the bigger names in the 2008 race — Guiliani and McCain — decided to skip the straw poll altogether, the lead-up to the event was reduced to a veritable playground for the B-, C- and D-level players. There was bullying and infighting and nitpicking. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback picked a fight with Tancredo. Tancredo pounced on Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee over (what else?) immigration. And an anonymous prankster pulled a fast one on Tancredo in the days leading up to the poll: Nearly 500 potential poll attendees received an (untrue) e-mail saying that the busses Tancredo had reserved to shuttle people to Ames for the poll had been canceled. (The campaign quickly assured its flock that the bus schedule was intact.)
Mitt Romney, who has thus far outspent every GOP candidate in the state, pulled a predictable first place with 31.6 percent of the vote. The hardcore social conservative bloc claimed second and third, for Huckabee (18.1 percent) and Brownback (15.3 percent), respectively.
Overall, most analysts deemed the 2007 Republican Straw Poll to be a bust. Only 14,302 people actually voted, despite candidates and interest groups lobbing millions at the event in hopes of making a media splash.
Whether these results will derail the Tancrazy Train remains unclear. For the last several weeks, all of his campaign efforts have been focused on a strong straw poll finish. His campaign chair, Bay Buchanan, told supporters that there was “nothing more important to our cause right now than a strong showing in Ames.”
But as of noon today, the Tancredo For President website still hadn’t been updated. Besides the straw poll, there were no stops listed on his campaign calendar. And the only response on the official Tancredo blog was an almost sweetly pathetic post chronicling one Tancredo lackey’s post-straw-poll all-nighter. (He apparently spent the night patrolling the Tancredo rent-a-tent in a golf cart, guarding the abandoned site against potential vandals.)
Tancredo has said it will be “very, very difficult” to continue his presidential bid if he didn’t finish in the top half at the straw poll. At fourth out of 11 contenders (including two no-shows and a guy who hasn’t even officially announced), he’s smack dab in the middle of that “very, very difficult” zone.
One thing is clear. Tom Tancredo’s lackluster finish wasn’t for lack of effort. He pulled out all the stops before the straw poll. Some brilliant campaign staffer with a finger firmly on the pulse of pop culture staged an “Iowa Idol” competition that some critics say could have violated House ethics rules. He dropped the Mecca/Medina bomb again, provoking a stiff scolding from the State Department, which deemed foreign policy ideas “absolutely crazy” and “reprehensible.”
As of this posting, where the Tancrazy Train heads next is anybody's guess.