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Post details: Virginia Straw Poll

Virginia Straw Poll

Straw Poll is a little pre-election get together where the participating campaigns toss their world-shattering ideas around, prune their argumentative trees, sharpen their ideological claws, size up the opponents' crowds and get the rare chance to sport the new ties with party' emblems. Straw polls are like a rehearsal dinner before a big wedding. The actors are all there, the speeches are almost fine tuned and there is plenty of artificial sweetener on the table.

As the Republican Party of Virginia held their straw poll in the spacious conference hall of Hyatt hotel not far from where I live, I took this opportunity to see what democracy looks like before it is put in the oven. I have to admit that locating the oven took me a little extra time, because a concierge, confused by too many concurrent conventions, sent to me to the 3rd floor, where I found only an empty room bedecked for a large banquet. I loitered around until I glanced at the door - of course! - what Republican in his ultra-right mind would hold a straw poll in a room bearing a golden plaque that proudly announces "Kennedy Suite".

After a quick elevator ride I found the correct auditorium already packed with anxious supporters - from venerable veterans who were still nursing their tender memories of the Nixon fiasco to young and perky Romney supporters with carefully greased hair, who were feverishly discussing how it felt to shake Mitt's hand. All this zest and ostentation was neatly tucked into sober brown drapes emblazoned with an obligatory elephant and a "Republican for a Reason" sign. The candidates were not present themselves, but their representatives were whipping up their oratory skills in order to outreagan each other. The connoisseurs of the English grammar would have been flummoxed at how many times you can mention Ronald Reagan and a given candidate in the same sentence.

As I stood there in the back, it felt like perching on a steep cliff overlooking a long valley of electoral politics and I marveled at its strange landscape: the dense thicket of caucuses and primaries, some open to all, some only to party members, some proportional, some winner-takes-all; the strange critters roaming its floor - the base delegates, the super delegates, the district delegates, the bonus delegates; the media tribes worshiping their pre-approved darlings; the opaque foliage of endorsements flitting high above the ground - whether they came from the New York Times or the Montana Union of Self-supported Nutcracker Manufacturers.

This fine system was designed in times when states wielded much more clout than they do today so little customization was in order, But today, what with most power being gradually transferred to the centralized federal government, it might make more sense to dispose of this political jungle and implement a simpler and more direct system: list all the candidates on one ballot and let people in a perfectly transparent process decide who they like.

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