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Gail Collins Has A Thing for Butter


Gail Collins writing on the straw poll in 1999:

The Republican Party held a Presidential straw poll in Iowa on Saturday and to tell the truth, it was fantastic. If the state fair over in Des Moines drew more people, it was probably only because the Republicans could not match a sculpture of the Last Supper made entirely out of butter.

Sure, the state fair had Little Richard in the music hall, but the Republicans had Vic Damone in the Orrin Hatch tent! The fair had dozens of food stands, but it could not conceivably have had as many people doling out barbecue sandwiches as George W. Bush had. Under the straw poll rules, residents had to personally show up at the state university campus to vote, so the candidates went crazy looking for ways to entice them. Participants could get T-shirts in nine different colors, each with a different politician’s name. One elderly woman claimed that she attended the straw poll every four years solely to replenish her supply of dust cloths.

Gail Collins writing on the straw poll in 2007:

While Brownback was speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of about 20, the line of people waiting to see Harry Potter carved in butter snaked around the Agriculture Building. Since the statue itself is behind glass for climate-control reasons, the scene strongly resembled the viewing of the Pietà in the Vatican.

Harry, pointing his buttery wand toward the flower-arranging competition, was surrounded by toads and potion bottles and, of course, the traditional Butter Cow which has to be there whether it really fits the theme or not. This was all the work of Sarah Doyle Pratt, a 30-year-old elementary school teacher, who apprenticed under the legendary Norma “Duffy” Lyon, creator of the never-to-be-forgotten all-butter Last Supper.

But when did Ms. Collins get so cynical on the straw poll in general?  Collins from 1999:

In New York, the party organizations’ idea of how to involve newcomers in the political process is to permit them to collect signatures on candidates’ petitions, and perhaps appear as witnesses during one of the ensuing court fights over who gets to stay on the ballot. Personally, I would rather make balloon dogs.

And Collins from 2007:

Instead of fighting about who gets to actually vote first, perhaps the states could just supercede the straw poll by producing their own meaningless exercises in summertime fund-raising and attention-getting. Personally, I’m only in Iowa for the butter sculpture, and I’d be happy to be diverted if, say, Arkansas challenged its voters to pile up watermelons for their favorite Republican, or Kansas did a Candidate Winnowing. Winners will be judged on originality and public participation.

Extra points for carving things out of local produce.


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