A more frequent publishing of Rich Galen's take on politics, culture and general modern annoyances. This is in addition to MULLINGS which is published Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

At the Fair

You may have heard or read that Fred Thompson had his out-of-town tryout at the Iowa State Fair on Friday.

For those of you who are not from Iowa or Texas or one of another handful of states in which the annual state fair is a huge Affair, you have to see it to believe it.

At the Iowa fair there was a half-ton pumpkin as well as a pig which was the size of a pick up truck. There was the traditional cow sculpted out of butter standing next to a bigger-than-life-sized statue of Harry Potter – also out of butter.

The Fair is also a required stopping-off-place for political candidates, if only because there are a whole bunch of Iowans in the same place.

Because of the timing of Thompson’s visit – less than a week after the GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa and two days before yet another Democratic debate, this time in Des Moines – there was a whole passel of press.

At this point in the political season news bureaus which might have been saving their travel budgets have had to start sending print reporters, television reporters, still photographers, videographers, producers and sound people on the road to cover the campaign.

When they gather around a candidate it is called “a scrum” from rugby or Australian Rules Football or something.

Here’s an example: The candidate is barely visible in the middle.

The scrum is an interesting being because the still and video guys need to have a direct view of the candidate. The sound guys have their microphones on long booms and just need to keep it somewhere near the top of the candidate’s head. The TV reporters are always mindful of “the shot” and will try to keep themselves between their camera and the candidate. Print reporters don’t care as long as they can hear – or, at least, get their voice recorders somewhere in the vicinity of the candidate’s mouth.

At the Iowa State Fair there had to have been 60 official members of the scrum plus a few staff members a couple of hangers on and a ton of Iowans.

Fair weather is often anything but. In fact, on Thursday morning when I walked around to look at the route we would be taking on Friday, it poured and I got soaked and my shoes didn’t dry out until … Friday morning.

Last week, I was told, it was 96 degrees with full humidity which made walking around the Swine Barn (or as I mistakenly called it, the “barrow burrow”) nearly impossible.

Friday, however, was perfect. The sun was out. It was in the low 80’s and the humidity was non-existent.

I haven’t seen, of course, any of the other candidates for President – Republican or Democrat – at the Fair this cycle, so I have nothing to measure Thompson’s appearance against but locals assured me it was pretty close to the top of the list for size and excitement.

There are rides at the Fair but we didn’t get on any of them … thank God. I, who gets seasick in the rear seat of a Lincoln Town Car, want no part of a device which is specifically designed to make my middle ear have a nervous breakdown.

There are lots of food booths and, although I had promised myself a pork tenderloin sandwich (which is pork beaten to about an eighth of an inch thick, coated in some type of meal, then deep fried in more pork stuff. It is the put on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and some sort of sandwich spread, which will run down your chin while it is still in the bag, and which is among the most unhealthful foods ever invented. Except, maybe, for this:

I wonder who first had that idea?

Hey, honey, look at this. I dropped this Twinkie into this vat of boiling lard and when I pulled it out, I let it cool a little then I ate it.

Really, Dean. Why would you do that?

It tastes darn good, honey. In fact, I may make another. Say, do we have any Ho-Hos?

Most normal people don’t go to a State Fair to watch a political candidate. They go to eat stuff which is bad for you, to look at flowers you can’t grow, pies you can’t bake, and animals you can’t raise.

I’ve told this story before, and it is absolutely true: In 1999 when Mullings as a stand-alone business was brand new, I flew out to Des Moines to cover the GOP straw poll…

I just went back to the archives and see that I actually told this story in the MULLINGS from Iowa in 1999:

  • This is why I'm not allowed to cross the street by myself: I was at the Iowa State Fair Friday morning to do an interview on the Fox News network. I parked my rental car where I was instructed, did the interview and caught a golf-cart-shuttle back to the parking lot. On the way I realized I hadn't noted where I had left my car.
  • "No problem," I said to myself, "it's right next to a pick-up truck." I walked up and down rows for a good 45 minutes past the other 137,542 pick-up truck in Iowa, before I finally located my car.

  • If you’ve never been to a BIG State Fair, you owe it to yourself and your kids to do it.


    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Wolfpack v. Tarheels


    I've gotten a thousand e-mails from you telling me that I'm an idiot for having suggested that the nickname of North Carolina State is the Tarheels.

    That is as dumb as calling the University of Texas teams the Aggies.

    I get it.

    Here's how it happened. Not an excuse, but instructive as to what happens when you (or, more precisely, I) am hurried.

    I generally write Mullings the night before publication. Except for August that means I write on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights for a M-W-F column.

    I am very dedicated to this. So much so that I will re-arrange travel to make certain I am someplace where I can "file" - that is, upload the column to the web page and to the e-mail server by sometime between 10 and 11 pm.

    Yesterday I was in Tennessee with Fred Thompson - I will mention again, and always, that I am a paid consultant to Friends of Fred Thompson. I had left DC at about 8 AM, took two regional jets and landed in Nashville at about 11:30 am. I was to meet up with the travelling party at about 2 PM, so I used the downtime to find a Starbucks (T-Mobile allows me to get onto the Internet from the road) and draft the column, which was written pretty much the way you saw it.

    My schedule called for me to catch a 5:40 pm flight from Nashville to Des Moines. As there are precious few BNA - DSM non-stops, I was going to change planes in Cincinnati where I had about an hour-fifteen to clean up the copy, format it for the web and for the e-mail, and do the Secret Decoder Ring Page.

    At Cincinnati airport there are three terminals. Terminal C is the commuter terminal and is (a) reachable only by shuttle bus and (b) has no Crown Room (again a T-Mobile hotspot).

    I wandered around the C concourse trying to find a place where I could light and pay the extra fee (no T-Mobile in the C concourse, it's some other outfit that made a deal with the airport) and get MULLINGS out.

    It was crowded, I was getting cranky, so I decided to get on a shuttle for the B concourse and the Delta Crown room, which I did.

    It was now about 8:05; I had a 9:15 flight.

    The principal differences between boarding a real airplane and a regional jet is this: You can't carry much on board so you have to hand your rollaboard to a ground person who puts a pink tag on it and puts it into the cargo hold. This saves an enormous amount of time in boarding because people aren't screwing around trying to get the entire contents of their two-bedroom apartment into the overhead directly above their seat.

    Also, there are simply fewer people to load - instead of 120 or so, there are maybe 40 or 50 (depending upon the side of the regional jet which those of us who are million milers on not one, but TWO, airlines call an RJ - pronounced ARE-jay) so it goes pretty quickly.

    All this to tell you that RJs are not called for boarding 30 minutes before flight time, but more like 10 or 15.

    So, I didn't need to be back at the C concourse much before 9:05 meaning I didn't need to catch the shuttle before nine.

    Fine. Except for this: They made an announcement in the Crown Room that the bar was closing at 8:30 and the club closed at 8:45.


    So, type, type, type, download a Catchy Caption of the Day (which was pretty good for all that) crop the Mullfoto, format the copy checked the spelling of Alban Barkley's first name - I was right - and literally as they were standing over me, hit the upload key and sent the column off.

    I am certain - absolutely certain - that if I'd had another 10 or 15 minutes I would have re-read the copy and caught the fact that I had re-named North Carolina State.

    I didn't, but I thought you might be interested in how this works - or at least how it worked last night.


    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    Finding a Needle in a Straw Poll

    DISCLOSURE: Reminder to all that I am a paid consultant to the Friends of Fred Thompson Committee. So, read what follows through that filter.


    No question that the Mitt Romney campaign cleared the bar which was set for him at the Republican Straw Poll in Ames on Saturday by getting about 32% of the votes.

    He came in first by a pretty good margin and, other than Gov. Mike Huckabee's second place finish (18%) just ahead of Sen. Sam Brownback (15%), there were no big surprises.

    Rep. Tom Tancredo got 14% of the votes for fourth place, which was significantly better than Rep. Ron Paul's 9%.

    Gov. Tommy Thompson's showing in sixth place with only 7% of the votes probably spells the end of Tommy's bid.

    Romney came in first with about the same percentage of votes which then-Gov. George W. Bush got in 1999. It was a solid win, but not an eyebrow-raiser. Add to that none of the other "first tier" candidates - Giuiliani, McCain, nor Fred Thompson - competed in this year's edition.

    Contrast that with 1999 when Bush had Steve Forbes - who had been willing to stake a good portion of his personal fortune on the 2000 election - nipping at his heels. Bush won, but Forbes' strong second-place finish prevented the Bush campaign from claiming a close-out win.

    There was some chatter over the past week that Giuliani was staging a below-the-radar effort to get supporters out and, thereby, claim the "better-than-expected" mantle. Upon further review, however, if there was any underground activity by the Giuliani campaign it might well have been to have supporters stay away so as to keep the overall turnout (about 14,000) as low as possible.

    It is probably fair to say that the McCain, Giuliani and Fred Thompson operations were perfectly happy that none of them broke from the pack and ended up in a surprise second or third-place finish. So long as they were all bunched at the back of the pack, they were satisified.


    I would have done this if I had their resources but USA Today did a study about how much each campaign spent per-vote.

    Third-place finisher Sam Brownback says he spent about $325,000 to win his 2,192 votes. That's $148.27 for each vote.

    Second-place finisher Mike Huckabee spent about $150,000 and received 2,587 votes. That's $57.98 per vote.

    Winner Mitt Romney has not said how much he spent. The reporting in this Washington Post article suggests at least $2 million and possibly more than twice that much. Assuming $2 million for 4,516 votes, that's $442.87 per vote. But it could top $1,000.

    Welcome to the NFL.


    Wednesday, August 8, 2007

    Newt Caught Shooting Campaign Ads?

    Newt Gingrich has written a very successful book called, "Rediscovering God in America."

    Newt and his wife were shooting video for a DVD companion to "Rediscovering" with full camera crew and hangers-on.

    This being Washington. This being August. And Newt being Newt, Out-of-Towners (who else would be at the Jefferson or Lincoln Memorials in 100 degree August heat?) assumed Newt was shooting commercials for his '08 Presidential bid.


    Sunday, August 5, 2007

    House Dems & Computers

    Last week the Democrats in the House did something which has never been done in its 2,397 year history.

    When Republicans were running the House they played with the rules. One time they kept a 15-minute vote open for about five hours until they twisted enough arms to pass a bill.

    But they never had the chutzpah to do what the Dems did last week.

    On an amendment to a bill (here's the LA Times coverage ) which would have forbidden the use of Department of Agriculture funds for illegal aliens, the GOP appeared to have won by a vote of 215-214.

    It is in the grand tradition of the House for the majority to gavel the vote to a close the second it gains the advantage. In this case, however, the majority gaveled down the vote when it was losing, then had the computers jiggered to show a 214-214 vote (a motion, amendment, or bill fails on a tie).

    So far you can live with this - as a national reporter said to me the next day, "Nothing the Republicans didn't do when they were in control."

    But where the Democrats broke new ground was when they erased any record of the vote from the computers and from the Congressional Record.

    The Republicans, justifiably, walked out of the Chamber.

    Can you imagine the string of editorial condemnations which would have followed such a move by the GOP?

    It was pretty much ignored by the Popular Press with the Dems in charge.