Iowa's GOP governor: End the Ames straw poll
By Michael O'Brien, NBC News
Updated 1:42 p.m. — A major staple of the Republican presidential nominating process -- the straw poll of Republicans at the Iowa State University in Ames -- could go by the wayside if Iowa's GOP governor gets his way.
Gov. Terry Branstad, who's currently serving his fifth term as governor of the Hawkeye State, told the Wall Street Journal that the straw poll was no longer relevant.
© Brian Frank / Reuters / REUTERS
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack looks on during a news conference at the Iowa State Capitol March 28, 2012.
"I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,"Branstad told the paper. "It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over."
The governor's comments earned a rebuke from the chairman of the state Republican party.
"I believe the Iowa Straw Poll is possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize (put in place county and precinct leaders & activate them) for Iowa’s First in the Nation Caucus," said A.J. Spiker, the party chairman. "I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames and I disagree with Governor Branstad about ending our Iowa Straw Poll."
Ronda Churchill / AP
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, left, Indiana Gov.-Elect Mike Pence, center, and Republican Governors Association Chairman and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell participate in the RGA Annual Conference on Nov. 15, 2012, in Las Vegas.
The straw poll has more often offered a glimpse of candidates' organizational strength in Iowa, which traditionally hosts the first nominating contest in a presidential contest, than a good predictor of the nominee. Candidates often spend thousands (if not more) on courting votes in the straw poll, hosting elaborate barbecues and musical acts in hopes of emerging from the event with a burst of strength.
But the winner hasn't always gone onto the nomination. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll this summer, earning a boomlet for her longshot bid for the nomination that fizzled weeks thereafter. Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican presidential nominee, didn't participate in the straw poll (though he stopped at the state fair during the same weekend); he lost the Iowa caucuses to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by just a few votes, despite not having campaigned in the state.
"You saw what happened the last time," Branstad told the Journal. "I don’t think candidates will spend the time or money to participate in a straw poll if they don’t see any real benefit coming out of it."
The event was consequential -- in a negative way -- for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had been thought to be a major contender versus Romney for the GOP nomination. But after Pawlenty's campaign bet almost all of its chips on the Ames event, he ended his bid for the presidency.
Still, the event is a major fundraiser for the Iowa GOP, and future candidates looking to add some momentum to their own campaigns might elect to participate anyway in the straw poll, a bit of presidential pageantry dating back to the 1980 election.