On the list of what defines Iowa, the Republican Straw Poll is right up there with waves of corn, the Hawkeye-Cyclone rivalry and the annual showing of the Butter Cow.
But Gov. Terry Branstad has become the latest person -- and perhaps the most important one -- to come out in favor of killing, or at least altering, the GOP Straw Poll.
The Straw Poll is part candidate beauty contest and major-part fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa. GOP activists pay for tickets, and candidates pay for tent space at the straw poll, which dates to 1979.
“I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Branstad told the Wall Street Journal for an article published Tuesday. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over.”
Iowa Republicans should instead look at having a retooled event focused on raising money or awareness of the candidates, without a straw vote as the primary focus, his spokesman told The Des Moines Register.
The governor's spokesman, Tim Albrecht, told the Register: “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, a la John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
“Or, a candidate still finds success in the caucus despite not participating (Mitt Romney) or finishes sixth in the caucuses despite winning the straw poll (Michele Bachmann).”
Iowa Democrats don’t have a straw poll, yet all their candidates participated in the last two contested caucuses, Albrecht noted. Republicans can’t say the same, he said.
The straw poll is held in August in Ames, and is often viewed as a dress rehearsal for the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in the new year.
It’s an exercise meant to help winnow the field, but has been under fire from some Iowa Republicans for elevating candidates who appeal primarily to the most conservative evangelical voters.
Michele Bachmann won the 2011 Straw Poll by appealing to the evangelical conservatives she helped court during her time as a congresswoman from Minnesota.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, a supporter of Ron Paul, who finished a strong second in the 2011 Straw Poll, disagrees with Branstad.
“The state GOP and the presidential campaigns will determine if there is an Ames straw poll come 2015,” Chairman A.J. Spiker said in a statement posted on the party’s website.
Spiker said he thinks the straw poll is “possibly the best way” for a presidential campaign to put in place county and precinct leaders for the caucuses.
“I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames, and I disagree with Governor Branstad about ending our Iowa Straw Poll,” Spiker said.