By Craig Robinson
When Iowa Governor Terry Branstad told the Wall Street Journal that the Ames Straw Poll had “outlived its usefulness,” he essentially ended the storied event.
Republican Party of Iowa leaders were quick to disagree with Branstad’s assessment and pledged to continue the tradition, but what they don’t understand is that Branstad has now given future candidates a license to skip the event.
It’s easy to understand why Iowa’s party bosses are quick to disagree with Branstad. The event is a huge moneymaker, creates a ton of media attention for Iowa and the caucuses, and forces candidates to start organizing the state early on in the process. The problem is that the Straw Poll has become a distraction for party staff because they spend more time and money organizing for a fundraiser than they do planning the caucuses.
That’s not an indictment of the current staff of the Republican Party of Iowa. Instead, it’s an admission from someone who oversaw the 2007 Straw Poll and 2008 Caucus. Plus, the current staff was all employed by Ron Paul’s campaign during the last Straw Poll. They have never organized a Straw Poll before from the Party’s side of things.
It’s also difficult for the current leadership and staff of the Republican Party of Iowa to understand how difficult it is to get candidates to participate in the event. Sure, the Iowa GOP can hold an event and call it the Iowa Straw Poll, but there is no guarantee that candidates will participate. In fact, candidate participation is always in doubt until candidates purchase space on the grounds.
After John McCain and Rudy Giuliani said they wouldn’t participate in the 2007 Straw Poll, a number of media outlets speculated that the event wouldn’t happen, or if it did, it would be insignificant. I’m not one to grovel, but that year, I was pleading with the Huckabee and Tommy Thompson campaigns to participate in the event. Their participation spared the event. So when I said that the candidates will decide if there will be a Straw Poll in 2015, I speak from experience.
Branstad’s recent remarks are significant because they provide cover for a candidate who doesn’t wish to participate in the event. While some candidates love the event, most major candidates would rather avoid taking an early or embarrassing loss at an event that really doesn’t matter.
Just because it appears that the Straw Poll may be dead, that doesn’t mean that Iowa will go without a marquee, multi-candidate event the summer before the caucuses. Instead of trying to resurrect the Iowa Straw Poll, party officials would be better served to come up with an event that could replace it.
Straw Poll Discussion Time Line
April 22, 2012 – TIR Article Calling for the End of the Iowa Straw Poll
Three Key Points:
1. Puts Iowa GOP Staff in Awkward Position
2. Distraction for staff that should be focused on caucus.
3. Too big of an obstacle for candidates who get in late.
May 4, 2012 – Iowa Press Discusses Ending Iowa Straw Poll
November 16, 2012 – Iowa Press Again Discusses Ending Straw Poll
November 20, 2012 – Branstad Tells WSJ Straw Poll has “outlived its usefulness.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore
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