The Republican National Convention has approved rules which spell out the calendar of contests in the presidential election year of 2012. Iowa’s Caucuses appear set now, but what about the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll?
In August of 2007, nearly five months before the Iowa Caucuses, Iowa Republicans held their sort of quadrennial Straw Poll in Ames. The event is held every four years, unless there’s a Republican president seeking re-election. Mitt Romney won last year’s event, with Mike Huckabee placing second. But party big-wigs Rudy Giuliani and John McCain did not participate.
Dave Roederer, chairman of McCain’s Iowa campaign, is in Minnesota this week at the Republican National Convention. "I think that the party’s going to have to take a look at the whole Straw Poll. Even some of the candidates that did participate said in the end they didn’t think at the end they didn’t think that it was a wise use of money and frankly that’s what happened with us," Roederer says of the McCain campaign decision not to participate in last year’s Straw Poll. "We figured it was going to cost a million, a million-and-a-half dollars in order to do well."
Attendance did not reach expectations for last year’s event. Plus, critics of Iowa’s role as the first caucus state say having the Straw Poll gives Iowa not one but two significant contests to kick off the presidential nominating season. "Although I don’t like to admit that, that is a fair statement," Roederer says.
The Straw Poll in Ames is a big fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa. Most of the candidates who participated a year ago bought tickets for their supporters, at 35 dollars a pop. The candidates paid the state party to rent space outside the venue, too, where they fed and entertained Straw Poll participants. Roederer has said Giuliani told him the Straw Poll was like a "shake-down."
"When the whole thing started out, it was kind of a fun, festive type of thing but as the importance kept growing and growing, it kind of quit becoming fun and just like another election," Roederer says.
But Stewart Iverson, the current chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, isn’t ready to say the last Straw Poll was held a year ago. "Who knows?" Iverson says. "..I don’t think it detracts from the Caucuses at all. I think what it does is enhance them because what it does is give people from all around the state to come to one area and hear the people who are running for president. A lot of people like that because it’s all in one day, see all the candidates and meet all the candidates, so I think that’s a plus."
The first Iowa Republican Straw Poll was in 1979. It was a rather low-key affair and George H.W. Bush won over a third of the votes. Televangelist Pat Robertson won the August, 1987 Straw Poll. The next Straw Poll, in August of 1995, finished in a tie between Bob Dole and Phil Gramm. George W. Bush won the 1999 Straw Poll.