GOP Straw Poll Under Scrutiny

Jun 8, 2015

Seven candidates and one potential candidate for the Republican nomination for president were on hand at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on Saturday for a fundraiser hosted by Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst.  

The expo grounds are also this year’s site for the Iowa GOP’s traditional cattle call for candidates, the Iowa Straw Poll.   

Ben Barringer, a software engineer, drove down to Boone from Lake Mills in far north Iowa with a couple of potential favorite candidates in mind

“I’m very excited for Ted Cruz and Scott Walker,” Barringer says.   

But so far neither Cruz nor Walker has agreed to attend the straw poll at these same expo grounds in August.

 “I would rather see them commit to that,” Barringer says.   “We’re going to try to come back if at all possible.”

Other activists also say an August return trip to the Expo is likely.  

But others have already made their choice of candidate, and some of those  candidates are a definite no for the straw poll.  

 “I just joined the Marco Rubio team as of last Friday,” says former State Senator Larry McKibben of Marshalltown. 

Rubio won’t be at the Straw poll.   That doesn’t worry McKibben.

“They have to make their own national political decisions,” McKibben says.  “I've always believed in and supported  the straw poll.”

McKibben says it would be a loss if the event was cancelled due to lack of interest.  

Another prominent Republican, former Iowa GOP Co-Chair David Oman, has signed on with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.    Bush won’t compete in the Straw Poll.    Oman has a history with the event. 

“I was co-chairman when it was launched,” Oman says.   “It has a whole different life now.  It’s not very predictive about who can win the caucus let alone who wins the nomination. 

“Governor Bush is going to run a focused campaign, doing well on caucus night when it matters the most,” Oman says.

Oman adds having both a straw poll and the Iowa caucuses may be “too much.”

Four years ago, retired mortgage banker Gary Simmons from Monroe threw his support behind the winner of  the straw poll, Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachman.

“We thought she was a good Christian person with good values and that was what was important to us at the time,” Simmons says.   “As things moved forward she didn’t get the traction she needed,” he adds.     

Some say that shows what can go wrong with the straw poll.    Drake University Political Science Professor Dennis Goldford was at the expo grounds on Saturday.   He says Bachmann’s straw poll result was too much too fast.

“I think her campaign  wasn't ready for attention she got after the straw poll,” Goldford says.   “She pretty much imploded.”   

Goldford says it wouldn’t hurt the Republican race if the straw poll went away.   

 It appears that even some seasoned activists like Larry McKibben aren’t thinking much about the straw poll yet.

 “What’s the date of it?” he asks.

But fourth district congressman Steve King is thinking about it.

“Here on this ground on August 8th there will be the first indication to the country of who we might prefer for the Republican nomination,” King says in remarks from the stage.   “The process that happens on August 8th needs to happen.  The field needs to be narrowed.   We don’t want to say no to anybody.”

But as the weeks go by it might be more and more candidates saying no to the straw poll.