Iowa Straw Poll may live on

August 6, 2013

Even as GOP leaders attempt to kill it, the Iowa Straw Poll may continue -- in a new form.

The head of the conservative evangelical group Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, tells the Des Moines Register that if state GOP leaders get rid of the straw poll, his organization will attempt to fill the gap (including, apparently, holding its own straw poll).

"I’m not sure what the future of the straw poll is, but if the straw poll doesn’t take place, this event is going to be poised to be a magnet for candidates and for the base to really get a look at who they want to support in the caucus,” Vander Plaats said.

Former Iowa GOP executive director Chuck Laudner said the Family Leader conference could conduct its own straw poll.

“That’s certainly part of the plan, and even though that’s a long ways off, it’s worth thinking about,” Laudner told Radio Iowa. “The straw poll got trashed so much this last winter that there’s a lot of folks that think that there isn’t going to be one.”

Family Leader is an emerging force in Iowa GOP politics. It's holding its 2013 conference in Ames -- the home of the Iowa Straw Poll -- this coming weekend, and scheduled guests include Donald Trump, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz. The group is already planning to hold a 2015 event around the time that the straw poll would be held.

The straw poll has been looked at for decades as the earliest indicator in the presidential nominating process, providing a sense for who is favored in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

But GOP leaders, including Gov. Terry Branstad, have argued that the straw poll has outlived its usefulness. While it's a great fundraiser for the state party, the top two finishers in 2012 were Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, who were never really in contention for the GOP nomination, and it has proven to be an expensive and fraught exercise for frontrunning candidates like Mitt Romney in 2008 and Tim Pawlenty in 2012.

Of the six Iowa Straw Poll winners, only three have gone on to win the caucuses, and only two have won the GOP nomination. Increasingly, frontrunning candidates are skipping the event altogether, as John McCain did in 2008 and Romney did in 2012.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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