RIP Iowa Straw Poll: A Look Back At The Presidential Election Tradition

13 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bowing to reality, Iowa Republicans kill their straw poll.

The carnival-like, barbecue-filled, quasi-vote-buying days of the Iowa Straw Poll are ending after that state’s Republican Party voted to kill the presidential campaign tradition.

Previously, several prominent Republicans – including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio – have said they are not going to participate in this year’s event, which was planned for August 8. “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,” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement after the vote.Iowa Republicans have canceled their once-vaunted presidential straw poll, bowing to the reality that the decades-old political tradition now only threatened to spotlight the state’s diminished role in the presidential race.The Republican Party of Iowa decided to cancel the event after several prominent GOP candidates announced they would skip the annual straw poll. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Republican straw poll, once a staple campaign event for GOP presidential candidates, is vanishing because of waning interest from 2016 hopefuls and questions about its relevancy.

Since 1979, the carnival-like summer event had been held prior to the contested Iowa Republican caucuses, and was meant to raise money for the state party. The event faced a lot of criticism over the past years over its high costs for candidates and not reflecting the broader preferences of Iowa Republicans. The event, hosted six times since 1979, once occupied a hallowed space in presidential politics — a first critical test for would-be Republican presidents and an opportunity for lesser-known candidates to showcase their ability to topple front-runners. The party’s poll has grown into a major fundraising event for the GOP and a major media moment for the candidate who managed to organize enough supporters to win the poll.

Republican officials wanted to make sure negativity surrounding the straw poll didn’t hurt Iowa’s traditional place in holding the first votes of the presidential nomination contest, with its leadoff caucuses. The news came as a relief to 2016 presidential candidates who wanted little to do with a tradition many felt was resource-intensive and anachronistic — not to mention irrelevant after GOP Rep. While the poll has rarely been an accurate predictor of the eventual GOP nominee, it was considered an early measure of which candidates might have staying power. Establishment Republicans had sometimes taken a pass on the non-bonding balloting, either because they didn’t want to invest the time and money needed to assure strong placement, or because they feared a poor showing could tarnish a front-runner image. It was also one of three things that made people pay attention to Iowa, the other two being the Iowa caucuses and someone carving something large out of butter.

In recent election cycles, social conservatives have tended to be bigger promoters, appreciating the event’s ability to help one of their own break through, as was the case in 2011 when former Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won. Everyone will be armed with a high-powered paintball rifle and suited up in the kind of camouflage hunting gear that makes presidential candidates look awkward. The event would demonstrate which candidates have the most American exceptionalism (paintball prowess is a well-established measure of exceptionalism) AND it would make the party a ton of cash.

Though historically, it’s been a test of candidates’ organizing power and retail politicking skills, it was blamed in 2012 for contributing to the lengthy, circus-like atmosphere of the Republican primary, in part by propping up candidates like Bachmann who might have faded earlier but for the event. In an effort to appease concerns, state party officials told candidates they would no longer have to bid up to $35,000 for space to pitch tents at the event.

Only 51 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in a recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll said they think it’s important for a candidate to attend the event. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, the state’s top Republican, had also previously called for the elimination of at least the balloting portion of the event, saying it placed too much emphasis on a mostly meaningless outcome that could frighten some candidates away from competing in the state. The event had traditionally been held on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, although it was to be moved this year to a cheaper location in Boone, Iowa.

Establishment Republicans don’t want to see social conservatives exert too much influence on the caucuses, for fear that they’ll frighten away more moderate candidates.

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