Terry Branstad: Time to kill Iowa Straw Poll

November 20, 2012

After 33 years, the Ames Straw Poll should be scrapped, says the state's Republican governor.

“I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Gov. Terry Branstad told the Wall Street Journal of the Iowa Republican tradition. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over.”

Two years ago, Branstad warned prospective candidates that they shouldn't skip the event. The straw poll is both a fundraiser and a test of candidates' strength among Iowa Republican activists. Candidates pay for prime real estate near where the voting takes place; they also often buy tickets for supporters. 

The straw poll has never been a great predictor of success in the state. Last year, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) won; she dropped out after placing sixth in the state's caucuses months later. 

But a poor showing in Ames can kill a campaign; some candidates simply opt out. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ignored Ames in 2011; he went on to place second in Iowa and win the nomination. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) skipped both the poll and, for the most part, the caucuses. 

“The straw poll is a disservice to Iowa Republicans in that it discourages top-tier candidates from attending, and therein threatens their participation in the caucuses," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht elaborated in an interview with the Des Moines Register.

Iowa state GOP chairman A.J. Spiker, a supporter of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in 2012, quickly shot back at the governor. “Gov. Branstad is wrong, and this is not a decision he will make anyway,” Spiker told the Wall Street Journal. “It is a decision the party and the candidates will make.”

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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