Iowa GOP Votes to Kill Straw Poll

Iowa GOP Votes to Kill Straw Poll
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Amid declining interest from presidential candidates, Iowa Republican leaders voted unanimously on Friday to nix the Hawkeye State’s straw poll.

Jeff Kaufmann, co-chairman of the state GOP, called a meeting of top party officials to discuss the future of the event, which had been planned for Aug. 8, after some Republican candidates said they would not expend valuable resources to compete in the daylong gathering.

“I’ve said since December that we would only hold a straw poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year that is just not the case,” Kaufmann said in a statement. “This step, while extremely distasteful for those of us who love the Straw Poll, is necessary to strengthen our First in the Nation status and ensure our future nominee has the best chance possible to take back the White House in 2016.”

The straw poll, which raised money for the state party, had been an Iowa staple since 1979. It was widely considered to be a winnowing process for the presidential field, which now includes more than a dozen White House hopefuls, but was thought to be nearing extinction as candidates such as Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham said they would not attend.

Moderate, establishment candidates tended not to fare well in the straw poll -- which historically attracted conservative activists -- so state officials were not surprised when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his decision to skip it. Mitt Romney avoided the straw poll in 2011, as did John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in 2007.

But the future of the event was cast into serious doubt when GOP candidates who typically appeal best to Iowa voters began dropping out.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the 2008 Iowa caucuses winner, announced last month that he would not participate, arguing that it pits conservatives against one another in a way that ensures the eventual nominee is a moderate who has a poorer chance of defeating the Democratic nominee.

“I have concluded this year’s Iowa straw poll will serve only to weaken conservative candidates and further empower the Washington ruling class and their hand-picked candidates,” the former Fox News host said, adding that his focus is on winning the Feb. 1 caucuses. (Huckabee currently stands in fourth place with 9.4 percent support among Iowa Republican voters, according to the RealClearPolitics average.)

In an interview with RCP at the time, state party Co-Chairman Cody Hoefert dismissed Huckabee’s argument. “[The straw poll] is an important platform by which candidates can address 20 percent of the caucus electorate in one location and make their case as to why they want to be the next president,” he said.

Ahead of Huckabee’s decision, Kaufmann and Hoefert wrote personal letters to the candidates, urging them to take part. They also announced several changes to the event in order to lower costs for the campaigns, including moving the gathering from Ames to Boone and eliminating auctions for select booths. Those efforts, though, could not salvage it.

Critics of the straw poll point to its history as an inaccurate predictor of the eventual GOP nominee or even the winner of the caucuses. In 2007, Romney won the straw poll but lost the 2008 caucuses to Huckabee. John McCain, who never competed in the straw poll, won the 2012 nomination. And in the 2011 contest, Michele Bachmann was victorious but dropped out of the race shortly thereafter.

Just last week, Iowa Rep. Steve King praised the straw poll, calling it an “effective winnowing process.” But some presidential hopefuls feared that a poor showing could fatally wound his or her campaign. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race in 2011 the day after finishing third in the contest.

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