Iowa’s governor advocates eliminating straw poll

Rachel Rose Hartman

Add Iowa's own Gov. Terry Branstad to the list of individuals who don't value the Ames straw poll.

"The straw poll has outlived its usefulness," the Republican told the Wall Street Journal. "It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over."

Since 1979, the Republican Party has conducted a presidential straw poll in Ames the August before the Iowa caucuses and other early nominating contests.

Last summer, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann took first place, narrowly beating Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But neither was the electorate's favorite. Bachmann exited the race Jan. 4 after a sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Paul failed to win a single caucus or primary. The party's eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, chose not to participate.

"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, a la John McCain and Rudy Giuliani," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register. "Or, a candidate still finds success in the caucus despite not participating or finishes sixth in the caucuses despite winning the straw poll."

History shows the poll has not been a reliable indicator of a candidate's odds—purchasing space on the grounds means automatic inclusion in the poll, and the reverse is true. But the poll serves as a major fundraiser for the party and heightens the importance of Iowa as the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Many Republicans in Iowa do not share Branstad's sentiment and strongly support the continuation of the poll as a way to maintain retail politics, support the party and elevate their state's role in the nominating process.