Iowa GOP overhauls Straw Poll to focus on 2016 candidates

7 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Behind the new Iowa GOP push to save the straw poll.

In 1979 the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series, Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Great Britain, and former ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. The chair of the Iowa Republican Party on Thursday announced major changes to the Iowa Straw Poll, part of an aggressive play to salvage the event’s role in GOP presidential politics amid persistent questions about its purpose and usefulness.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa’s presidential straw poll wants to go back to basics — just politics, no need for tents filled with barbecue and flashy bands. The high-profile Republican cattle-call has seen its reputation wane in recent years as campaigns and reporters alike have criticized the high costs associated with attending — not to mention the outcome’s tendency to favor candidates with big base appeal, but little mass appeal. “The issue of cost is a serious one that deserves a serious solution. A key change revealed by Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, in an op-ed column for Politico, is cutting the costs for the party and candidates to participate in the carnival-like gathering that’s been held since 1979. The party will give each candidate who chooses to participate “free” tent space at the Central Iowa Expo grounds near Boone where the 2015 Straw Poll will be staged on August 8th.

Instead, spaces will be assigned at random and offered to campaigns free of charge. “This removes the most significant cost barrier to participation and provides a candidate with an open space to make their case to Iowa voters,” Kaufmann said. And the event will provide food via Iowa State Fair-style vendors and local organizations, rather than having the campaigns provide the food, which Kaufmann said added to the cost of participating and “cheapened the straw poll as campaigns tried to win votes with local delicacies, not good ideas. It was announced earlier this year that the poll is moving from its previous site in Ames, Iowa, to a new location in Boone that Kaufmann said Thursday was more accessible for handicapped attendees. The announcement follows reports that several major candidates have considered skipping the event altogether, includingy former Florida governor Jeb Bush. It traditionally attracts thousands of activists from around the nation’s first caucus state and can be a barometer of who is strong in the state and who is not.

Kaufmann noted Thursday that Boone is equipped with the necessary infrastructure to handle large crowds, mentioning significant improvements over Ames with regards to access to electricity, parking, and media spaces. “Change isn’t easy. Previously, campaigns have had to engage in expensive culinary brinksmanship to provide most of the food for tens of thousands of hungry straw poll attendees.

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