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Spike the straw vote?

Byline: The Register-Guard

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has ruffled the feathers of state GOP leaders by proposing what many of them regard as unthinkable: Eliminating the 33-year-old Ames Straw Poll. Branstad told The Wall Street Journal he believes the poll has "outlived its usefulness," to which A.J. Spiker, state Republican chairman, responded, "Gov. Branstad is wrong, and this is not a decision he will make, anyway."

The poll began in 1979 and takes place in the August preceding each election year in which there's a contest for the GOP nomination - when there's no incumbent Republican president running for re-election. It's a one-day event held on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. There have been six polls, skipping the three years when Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were running for re-election.

Some Republicans have decided the poll is irrelevant, and they make a good case. It has forecast the winner of Iowa's GOP caucuses - the first in the nation held every presidential election year - only three out of six times, in 1979, 1995 and 1999. The winner of the straw poll has gone on to win the Republican nomination only twice: Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000. And Bush was the only poll winner and nominee to be elected president.

For poll critics, the icing on the cake came when Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann edged out Ron Paul in the 2011 poll - then dropped out of the race 75 days later. And one potentially promising candidate, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty - dropped out of the race the day after the poll, finishing third. Only about 17,000 Iowans participated in the straw poll compared to roughly 120,000 who voted in the caucuses last January.

Supporters of the poll, the only presidential contest of its type in the country, defend it not as a bellwether in the presidential race but as a party fundraising event that gives voters, and the media, an early look at GOP presidential prospects. Political observers and insiders say it has become a preliminary field test of candidates' organizational strength in Iowa, and Iowa Republicans in general seem to enjoy its old-fashioned mixture of barbecue, music, dancing and political speechifying.

The state GOP chairman is right - it's not up to the governor to decide whether the straw poll continues. But except for the Iowa Republican coffers and the people who sell food and drink and provide entertainment for the event, the media would be doing everyone else a favor if they'd start treating the straw poll for what it is instead of hyping it as a significant national political event, which it's not.

Harkening to Bachmann's victory last year, 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." He may be right, but the odds are by August 2015, after a post-election layoff of more than two and a half years, the traditional media frenzy will resume.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:Nov 26, 2012
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