On Saturday, the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee finalized the ballot for next month’s straw poll in Ames. The committee voted to only include the six campaigns that purchased lots on the grounds of the Iowa State Center. They also chose to include additional candidates who have filed the necessary paperwork to run for president with the Federal Election Commission, but fell short of actually creating criteria that would be equally applied to all candidates.
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman will be on the ballot even though they have publically stated they will not participate in the Straw Poll. Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, two potential candidates who have a presence in Iowa, were kept off of the ballot. Republican Party of Iowa Chairman, Matt Strawn, cast the deciding vote because the participating committee members were evenly divided on the matter.
Limiting the straw poll ballot to only those who are officially in the race appears to be a logical move. The only problem is that the Straw Poll in still three weeks away, and what happens if someone announces their campaign during that time? While it is true that Rick Perry is not formally in the race, he sure acts and sounds like a presidential candidate.
By excluding Perry from the Straw Poll ballot, the Republican Party of Iowa has eliminated the biggest obstacle he had to overcome in becoming an official candidate. The presence of the straw poll looms large in the decision making process that a candidate who enters the contest late.
Four years ago, Fred Thompson made his first appearance in the state less than a week after the straw poll. Shortly thereafter, Thompson officially entered the race. It is no secret that the only thing that was preventing him from announcing sooner was the straw poll because the campaign felt it could not meet the media’s expectations had he participated.
Perry no longer has to worry about straw poll expectations because the Republican Party decided not to place his name on the ballot. Had he been on the ballot, other campaigns and the media could have rightfully placed some expectations on him, but all of that vanished when they left him and others off the ballot.
Perry now has the flexibility to launch his campaign at any time, a luxury that Fred Thompson didn’t have. While the central committee and existing campaigns thought it was unfair to allow an unannounced candidate on the straw poll ballot, they overlooked the fact that they gave Perry a free pass when it comes to the straw poll.
The actions taken by the central committee on Saturday may have kept Perry off of the August 13th ballot, but it did nothing to keep him out of the August 11th Fox News debate in Ames. If Perry chooses, he would easily announce his campaign for the presidency in enough time to participate in the debate.
Perry would be allowed to participate because he is performing well in national polls and would be an official candidate for president. If he went that route, Perry would dominate the news coverage in advance of the debate and straw poll. In many respects, his presence could over shadow the entire straw poll.
Participating in a debate in the first moments of a campaign may seem risky, but Perry is a seasoned politician, and let’s not forget how well that strategy worked for Michele Bachmann.
Placing Perry and Palin’s names on the ballot was seen as rewarding bad behavior by the participating campaigns and party officials. What they ended up doing was rewarding certain candidates for not announcing their candidacies. Better yet, the Republican Party of Iowa actually invited Perry and Palin to come in and steal the spotlight from the candidates who are actually paying the freight to put on the event.
In the coming days, officials with the Republican Party of Iowa will likely attempt to hype the write-in option as a battle between Perry and Palin to see who has the most dedicated supporters. The campaigns will follow suit and try to build some sort of expectations for Palin, and especially for Perry.
Good luck with that. If they wanted to give Perry and Palin supporters a reason to come to Ames, they should have been placed on the ballot. If campaigins wanted to place expectations on their competitors’ campaigns, they should have wanted them to participate so that they could not only beat them, but also embarrass them.
Having organized the 2007 Straw Poll, I can tell you that the most difficult task was actually getting candidates to participate. This is something that both Chairman Strawn and Executive Director Chad Olsen know very well. In 2007, Strawn was the head of a campaign that decided not to participate, and Olsen headed up one of the last campaigns to commit to the event.
For the event to remain relevant, it needs to be inclusive, not exclusive. In addition to winnowing the field of candidates, the Ames Straw Poll has helped insulate Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation status because it requires candidates to begin campaigning in the state early. The Iowa GOP has now set a precedent that if you want to avoid the straw poll, all a candidate needs to do is formally announce their candidacy late.
Not only does this decision bode poorly for future straw polls, but it would also affect our First-in-the-Nations status in future election cycles.
“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” – Edmund Burke
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