The Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll is almost here, so here’s a look at Straw Polls of the past and what this Saturday’s event may mean for the contestants.
The August 1987 Straw Poll served as a sort of coming out party for the Christian Coalition and its favored candidate, television evangelist Pat Robertson, who captured one-third of the Straw Poll votes.
Des Moines lawyer Steve Roberts, a Bob Dole supporter, suggested back then that Robertson wasn’t electable. "And the electability is what it’s all about, unless we’re on some kind of a suicide mission," Robert said of his party in 1987.
Roberts, a long-time member of the Republican National Committee, has not yet endorsed a candidate in the current race. "I’m occupying a place of benign neutrality," Roberts told Radio Iowa during a telephone interview this week.
Roberts will be at Saturday’s Straw Poll, though, and he predicts there’ll be surprises when the final tally is announced. "Even those that are not officially appearing (in Ames), they’re I think going to indirectly play and the results could be most interesting," Roberts said.
Voting starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and ends at 6 p.m. Party officials say the results should be announced an hour later. For the bottom dwellers, their campaign days will be numbered, according to Roberts. "Some have already suggested that if they don’t do well in Ames, they will have to enter into an agonizing reappraisal as to where they go from there," Roberts said.
Straw Polls of the past have hastened the exits of candidates like Lamar Alexander and Elizabeth Dole, who dropped out soon after the 1999 Straw Poll. Eric Woolson was in the room with George W. Bush when the results were announced on that August night.
"He had beaten the previous best finish by 300 percent and we were all just very excited about that day," Woolson told Radio Iowa, as he recounted the Texas-sized BBQ Bush threw for his supporters.
One of the most memorable parts of that day, however, was the air conditioned tent Steve Forbes erected. "We created a destination that was fun, exciting and comfortable for people," Steve Grubbs, a Forbes 2000, told Radio Iowa today.
But it wasn’t just the air conditioning, according to Grubbs. Forbes paid Ronnie Milsap to give a concert and ordered up hundreds of steak dinners.
"Turned out we ended up feeding a lot of non-Forbes supporters as well," Grubbs said. Grubbs is working for Tommy Thompson at this year’s Straw Poll. Woolson, the former George W. Bush aide, is now working for Mike Huckabee.
"I sort of wish that Steve Forbes was in the race this year and had his tent because I know it’s going to 95 degrees and very humid on Saturday," Woolson joked. "We could probably use a couple of those big air conditioned tents."
Those who participate in the Straw Poll voting must show a photo I.D. to prove they’re an Iowa resident and they must have a $35 ticket. Many of the candidates are buying tickets for supporters.