Barbecue, Music and Voting Machine Mishaps

By Michael D. Shear and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007

AMES, Iowa, Aug. 11 -- Republican presidential candidates transformed the campus of Iowa State University into a conservative carnival Saturday, competing for votes by offering free soda and barbecue and a promise of shade for the thousands who braved the 100-degree heat to attend this year's straw poll.

The activists came by the busload, more than 30,000 in all, for the first voting of the 2008 presidential campaign. But the counting was marred by a voting machine malfunction involving about 1,100 votes, or about 8 percent of the total cast.

The time required to count those ballots delayed the announcement of the results by more than an hour. As everyone inside the Hilton Coliseum waited, organizers cranked up the music and vamped for time with speeches, but frenetic fans screaming their candidates' names and waving signs eventually grew tired and sat down.

The mishap was especially embarrassing as it followed a federal lawsuit Friday by supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who argued that the Diebold Election Systems machines were prone to problems. A federal judge denied the request for an injunction blocking the voting, and an appeals court upheld that ruling Saturday.

But for many, casting ballots was an afterthought as they made their way past huge stages with live bands, inflatable bouncy rooms for the kids and fair-style booths touting one conservative cause after another.

The Iowa Right to Life Committee was there, as was the Iowa Christian Alliance, which urged "congressional action to secure our borders." There was the OstrichMobile, which offered lemonade and proclaimed that the "politicians' favorite position on Social Security" is with their heads in the sand. One of the biggest booths housed the National Rifle Association.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who is not yet an official candidate, had his "FredHeads" there, passing out fliers. And conservative Alan Keyes -- running for president as an independent -- had a booth.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy G. Thompson, a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, rode from Des Moines to Ames with black-clad, bandana-wearing supporters in tow.

Backers of Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) zipped through the parking lots on golf carts, picking up supporters and bringing them to his tent.

And Richard Schwartz, 58, stood on stilts and held a sign proclaiming his support for "the big man," Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.).

"I like his conservatism," Schwartz, an Ames resident, said of Hunter, as he waved to folks walking by. "He's a good Christian, so he has all those good values. He has a good record on border control."

Most attendees made their way quickly to the candidate tents, where the campaigns waged a battle of one-upmanship, fueled by the millions of dollars that eight GOP candidates have spent in the hopes of scoring an early victory here.

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