Should the Ames Straw Poll Be Scrapped?

Republican presidential candidates at the straw poll in Ames, Iowa: from left, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann. [Photo: Max Whittaker/New York Times]

 Over the past week, I keep getting buffeted with questions about 2016. Do I think it’s time to decide who the GOP nominee will be? Or more directly: who do I think our nominee should be?

I question the wisdom of jumping into that discussion so soon after the election, and this story is emblematic of the reason why. At this point, even the structure (or existence) of Iowa’s traditional Ames Straw Poll is being debated. Or is it? It’s just as likely a distraction created by our friends in the mainstream media. Here’s the story in The New York Times (since The Hill left out Strawn’s comments):

Iowa’s GOP Governor: Time to End the Straw Poll

Eyeing the wreckage of the 2011 Ames Straw Poll, which Rep. Michele Bachmann won only to fizzle as a candidate soon after, [Iowa Governor Terry] Branstad wants to do away with the whole thing.

“I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Mr. Branstad said of the 33-year-old GOP ritual. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over.”

Going back to 1979, Republican presidential contenders have flocked to Ames, Iowa, in August to eat fried food, dance to country bands and wheedle votes from the party faithful in what amounts to an overblown party fund-raiser disguised as a trial run for the real Iowa caucuses early the next year.

Its track record as an anointer of GOP nominees falls far shy of impressive. Only two victors, Bob Dole in 1995 and George W. Bush in 1999, went on to win the Iowa caucus the next year and then the nomination in November. And only one, Mr. Bush, went on to become president….

Matt Strawn, the former GOP chairman who organized the last straw poll, says he backs a move to tweak the event to downplay the vote “while still putting the candidates in front of tens of thousands of Iowa caucus-goers.” What that might amount to, he said, remains to be determined.

Then there’s this
from Steffen W. Schmidt, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University:

We all know that it is not a scientific event where GOP candidates for president are actually tested – in 2011, Michele Bachmann won the straw poll, and then proceeded to flame out during the debates. I also don’t recall Mitt Romney doing very well in the poll.

But like Woodstock it’s a great media event. There are bands, candidates rent exhibit space, everyone compares the quality of the barbeque or fried chicken that’s being catered by each contender. There are short speeches and lists of candidate talking points and issue positions. The weather is spectacular and fun is had by one and all. Kill it? No!

Read the rest.

What do you think?

–Becca Lower

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