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Ames Straw Poll under fire

BY CASSIDY RILEY | NOVEMBER 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Ames Straw Poll may be killed by friendly fire.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad recently voiced his concerns with the GOP’s straw poll, claiming it does not accurately reflect the results of the caucuses or the election.

“The governor believes we should look at having a differently focused event to raise money and/or awareness of the candidates where a straw poll isn’t the primary focus,” said Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad. “The straw poll is a disservice to Iowa Republicans in that it discourages top-tier candidates from attending, and therein threatens their participation in the caucuses.”

The Ames Straw Poll is primarily a fundraiser for the Iowa GOP because candidates pay a fee to participate and often set up tents with food and entertainment for voters.

University of Iowa Associate Professor of political science Timothy Hagle said that when candidates claim to be discouraged from participating in the caucuses because of the straw poll, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Candidates will say, ‘I don’t want to come to Iowa because the straw poll is too much time or is just a beauty contest,’ ” he said. “There may be something to that, but it may be the candidates not taking responsibility for their own failures. If you have positions that aren’t going to resonate with Iowa Republicans in the caucuses, then instead of blaming that on your own policies, you can blame that on the caucuses or the straw poll.”

Sue Dvorsky, the chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, argued a party fundraiser should not have that much power. She cited the results of the last poll as an example.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who spent a lot of time and energy campaigning in Iowa, came in third place in the poll, while Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., took first place. Pawlenty dropped out of the race a few days later.

“For a candidate of that caliber, because of the effects of that event, [to drop out] is really very, very bad for the process,” Dvorsky said. “That gives that event too much weight when really all it is, is a glorified fundraiser.”

She said that with the Iowa caucuses’ first-in-the-nation status often under criticism, the straw poll only adds to the tension and may deter some potential political candidates from participating in the caucuses.

Though there are some Republicans and Democrats who support of the straw poll, both have different reasons.

A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa GOP, said in a statement that he disagreed with Branstad. As chairman, the fate of the poll ultimately rests in his hands.

“I believe the Iowa straw poll is possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Caucus,” he said. “I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames, and I disagree with Gov. Branstad about ending our Iowa straw poll.”

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said most of the scrutiny over the poll falls on the Iowa Republicans for putting forward such extreme candidates like Bachmann.

“I actually agree with the governor that they should do away with it, but as a Democrat, I think it’s a goofy thing to do, and it should continue,” he said. “Any time straw polls put that kind of person forward, it certainly does help Democrats win elections, because it’s all about the middle.”


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