(Ames, Iowa) At noon on Saturday, Doug Klokow of Ames was 16th in line to use one of the dozens of “Kybos” — portable potties — which adorned the parking lots surrounding Hilton Coliseum.
“I’m supposed to be voting in there?” Klokow joked as he pointed to the line of Kybos.
Klokow came to the year’s biggest political event not knowing which of the nine Republican presidential hopefuls he’d cast a Straw Poll ballot for at day’s end.
“I’ll listen to the candidates speeches and hopefully be able to make an informed decision as opposed to who has the biggest tent,” Klokow said.
The most extensive and expensive playground was bought by billionaire Steve Forbes, complete with a performance stage, free food, children’s carnival games and a boulevard of vendors.
“This has no price, so it must be free,” Nancy Ostrem of Radcliffe, Iowa, joked with a vendor selling jewelry. “We figured there would be just about everything here.”
A few booths away displayed the “best selling postcard” in Washington, D.C. which depicted a naked Bill Clinton being disciplined by his wife, Hillary.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” Cambridge, Iowa, resident Dick Synder quipped “Did you ever think we’d have a President who’d carry on like that? He needs to be paddled, don’t you think?”
“It’s timely and it’s topical,” said George Durazzo of Political Americana, the card’s purveyor. “I was reluctant to bring something so tasteless out to the beautiful Midwest, but it’s been our best seller.”
Iowans strolled through Forbes-land and visited tent cities erected by the other candidates.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been to the Straw Poll, ” said Joyce Knauss of Carroll, Iowa. “It’s just a lot of fun. Beautiful day and it’s just exciting to be able to go to all of their tents after we’ve been hearing so much about all the candidates.”
Some of the candidates’ staff wandered around the Forbes area, diverting their supporters to their candidates’ tents.
“When people spend $50,000 to get a good spot at the Straw Poll, it’s a little bit unfair so you kind of have to compensate,” said Steve Kessel of Orlando, Florida, a volunteer for Pat Buchanan.
The candidates provided entertainment, celebrities like Karl Malone, free food and all but one candidate picked up the tab for the $25 Straw Poll ballots for supporters. Alan Keyes asked his supporters to pay the $25 themselves.
Keyes supporter Norm Kluever of Ankeny, Iowa, stood in the Gary Bauer free food line with friends who are supporting Bauer.
“This is more fun than a barrel of democrats,” Kluever said.
Wayne Schichtle of Cedar Falls, Iowa, walked from tent-to-tent with a video camera, aiming to get each of the presidential candidates on film, but not knowing which he’d support when it came time to vote.
“We take it with us when we go to interesting places, and this would be one of the best this year,” Schichtle said.
Ten year old Hallie Beeler of Peru, Iowa, came with a pad of paper, prepared to get the autographs of all of the candidates. Her first “John Hancock” came from Lamar Alexander, who used his own marker.
“Hi, Hallie, I’m glad you’re here,” Alexander said as he took the pad and began writing with his own marker.
“You actually spelled my name right,” Hallie exclaimed. “No one spells my name right.”
“Well, then I’m qualified to be president if I spelled your name right,” Alexander replied. “You go check these other candidates out and see if they do as well.”