Mitt Romney continued his effort to down play the Iowa Caucuses when he told the Wall Street Journal that he will not participate in the Republican Party of Iowa’s Straw Poll. Even though the Romney campaign actively participated in the first official Straw Poll meeting last month, Romney’s decision to bypass the event was expected.
Romney’s decision comes four years and three days after Rudy Giuliani and John McCain announced that they would skip the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll. Making matters worse, the Romney decision comes just hours after Newt Gingrich’s entire campaign staff bolted from his struggling campaign, an indication that Gingrich will not be able to participate in the Straw Poll.
Tomorrow night was also supposed to be the much-anticipated Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines featuring Donald Trump. That event was canceled when Donald Trump backed out after he made his decision not to seek the Republican nomination in 2012.
When Giuliani and McCain dropped out of the Straw Poll four years ago, Romney was the first candidate to publically announce that he would still participate in the event. Throughout the summer, he used Giuliani’s and McCain’s decision to skip Iowa as an avenue to attack the credibility of their campaigns. After winning the 2007 Straw Poll, Romney proudly stated, “If you can’t compete in the heartland, if you can’t compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January when the caucuses are held, and how are you going to compete in November?”
Romney has now made the decision to ignore his own advice.
Romney’s announcement means that once again, the news media and political operative from around the country will question the validity of the event. News stories about the event, which is a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa, being a “shakedown,” are being written and published at this very minute.
The straw poll has been an easy target for those who call it a shakedown. Yet the only cost that the candidates are expected to pay for is the $15,000 minimum rental fee it requires the candidates to pay for a location on the grounds of the Iowa State Center. That cost helps the Republican Party cover the cost of renting the facility and providing the necessary infrastructure like security, medics, bathroom facilities, exterior lighting, and parking attendants. In 2007, the cost for just those things totaled $220,000. The campaign land auction only accounted for $137,300 that year.
The notion that the Iowa Straw Poll is the only time that candidates get “fleeced” is also ridiculous. Candidates are required to pay a $25,000 filing fee in South Carolina. Florida holds a similar event to the Iowa Straw Poll – this year it is called Presidency 5. To be a delegate at that event, people are assessed a $175 fee, but non-voting guests pay $125. That makes the $30 price tag for a ticket to vote look like a bargain, and it’s also worth noting that the party charges nothing for people who just want to walk around the candidates’ tents.
While campaigns have a history of purchasing tickets for the Iowa Straw Poll, providing food and entertainment, and bussing supporters to Ames, it should be noted that this is something individual campaigns choose to do. They are not forced to do any of it.
Mike Huckabee didn’t bus people to the event, and he did well. He also didn’t feed with Hickory Park barbeque. Instead, his guests dined on watermelon, much less expensive barbeque, and consumed water. Maybe Huckabee’s next book should be “How to Do The Iowa Straw Poll on a Budget.” I’m sure he would sell a few copies. Candidates like Romney, Bush, and Forbes chose to wine and dine their supporters in Ames, but they were not forced. It’s not a shake down when nobody forces you to spend money in a certain way.
What is often missed in the numerous articles that are written about the Iowa Straw Poll, is that it has played a historical role in winnowing the field of candidates before the official nomination process begins. While some bemoan that fact, it’s actually very helpful.
Most people probably don’t even realize that candidates like Alexander Haig, Pete DuPont, Richard Lugar, Pete Wilson, Bob Dornan, Arlen Specter, Dan Quayle, Orrin Hatch, John Kasich, Bob Smith, or even Jack Kemp actually ran for President. That’s because the flaws in their campaigns were exposed early in Iowa. It’s not a bad thing events like the Iowa Straw Poll, or even debates for that matter, help winnow the field before a single vote is cast in the nomination process.
With Romney’s absence and the sudden implosion of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, the validity of the Straw Poll is once again being questioned by some. In regards to the Straw Poll, the date to keep an eye on is June 23rd. That is the date that campaigns will have to bid for space at the event. Only then will the party know who is actually committed to playing in Ames.
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