Iowa GOP to Again Weigh Fate of Straw Poll

Iowa GOP to Again Weigh Fate of Straw Poll
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Although the Iowa straw poll has been a much ballyhooed early step in Republican presidential races for 36 years, it may be on the brink of extinction. On Friday, the governing board of the Iowa Republican Party will hold a conference call to re-evaluate whether to hold the quadrennial event. Many in the GOP, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, have said that the party fundraiser “has outlived its usefulness.”  

In January, the board of the state party voted, 16-0, to continue planning for the poll – actually a day-long festival that involves food, speeches, and tents in which each of the attending candidates meets and greets voters. But the event has increasingly faced criticism about its effectiveness as an early predictor of Hawkeye State preferences. Michele Bachmann won in 2011 with 29 percent of the vote but placed a distant sixth in the 2012 caucuses. In 1987, televangelist Pat Robertson won the poll and came in second in the Iowa caucuses; however, he only carried four primary states and dropped out in May 1988. In the past two general elections, the eventual nominees—John McCain and Mitt Romney—skipped the poll.

Several 2016 contenders have already decided not to attend the Aug. 8 festival in Boone. Jeb Bush, whose brother and father each won the poll, is attending the RedState Gathering in Atlanta instead, and has said he “doesn’t do straw polls” due to the historically high financial costs required for candidates to feed, transport, and provide shelter to supporters. Mike Huckabee, who placed second in the 2007 straw poll and won the 2008 caucuses, announced his decision not to participate for similar reasons in a May 21 op-ed in the Des Moines Register. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham have also decided not to participate.

Advocates for the straw poll point out that it has been an early indicator of success for some eventual nominees, including Bob Dole and George W. Bush. Rep. Steve King, whose district is home to the poll site, took to C-SPAN on June 2 to express his support, stating, “We need the straw poll to be a winnowing process, and it’s been an effective winnowing process, despite all the arguments to the contrary.”

Organizers earlier this year announced several changes to lower the costs for candidates. Jeff Kaufmann, the chair of the state GOP, noted that tent space, food, and on-site transportation would all be provided by his organization, and the location was shifted from Ames to Boone after the latter offered a lower fee to host.  (Many candidates, including Rubio, Graham, Huckabee and Scott Walker, recently spent time in Boone attending Sen. Joni Ernst’s first “Roast and Ride.”)

According to the RealClearPolitics average, Walker, who spent much of his childhood in Iowa, currently leads the GOP field there by more than seven percentage points, with 18.2 percent support. The Wisconsin governor has yet to formally declare his candidacy.

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