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Editorial: Stubborn Iowa loses straw poll

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa is a proud state when it comes to the political sphere. Our first-in-the-nation status for presidential hopefuls has been a hallmark of campaigns but probably more so to the identity of the state. This is particularly true for the smaller locales.

The Hamburg Inn has become a landmark of Iowa City for hosting summits and stumping for the likes of former President Ronald Reagan and President Obama. Annually, now-former Sen. Tom Harkin visits the Pedestrian Mall to celebrate the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

During each presidential-election season, the Republican Party holds a symbolic poll in Ames to test the waters on how successful candidates’ campaigns have been so far. The Ames Straw Poll began more than three decades ago, and it has become a deeply held tradition for Iowa. However, all things must fade away eventually.

State GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the official reason was the lack of candidates interested in participating in the Straw Poll. It’s seemingly easy to write off the symbolic gesture of the event, but there may be some hints as to why so much weight has been placed on the poll since 1979.

Barring the most recent poll in 2011, whoever placed first or second in the poll went on to win the Iowa caucuses. Perhaps the implication of this should lead to a continuance of the tradition.

Opponents, on the other hand, have criticized the nature of the Straw Poll for being detrimental to the reputation of the Iowa caucuses by raising the popularity of fringe politicians who ultimately do not affect the presidential field.

The caucuses have been a historic stronghold for the state, in which many of the residents take great pride in the grass-roots nature of the event. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for candidates to raise funds.

As the state elected new leaders in the Republican Party, those individuals feel it is necessary to do away with the unnecessary. Proponents of the Straw Poll, such as Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa radio host, said this an attack on the event that has been brewing since Gov. Terry Branstad took over the state’s GOP party.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the elimination of the poll this election season indicates that in the party, the GOP sees it as a hindrance. Though the poll holds predictive value, its political ramifications are largely insignificant. Some traditions are better served as artifacts rather than continuing their symbolic practice.

Will anything drastic occur initially as a consequence? Most likely not.

However, with side narratives ever developing, questioning the status of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa’s political pride and joy will seemingly be reorganized, perhaps re-categorized, in the coming years. Dropping the Straw Poll is the first step towards that change.


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