Iowa’s governor says it’s time to ditch straw poll

DES MOINES — In the days since Republicans lost an election many in the party thought was theirs, chatter has been bubbling about what the GOP should do to recover.

For Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, it starts with the smallest of actions: abandoning the state’s straw poll.

Once a festive checkpoint on the road to the leadoff ­Iowa caucuses, the poll has devolved into a full-blown sideshow, Branstad and other critics contend. They say it’s an unfair and false test that has felled good candidates and kept others from competing in the state.


Veteran GOP presidential campaign consultant Charlie Black said, ‘‘It’s been bad for years, but no one has had the guts to say it until now.’’

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The poll, which morphed over the decades into a closely watched early test of caucus campaign strength, had ‘‘outlived its usefulness,’’ Branstad told The Wall Street Journal this week. Some contend it amplifies the voices of candidates lacking broad appeal.

Branstad says he has widespread support for a different event to replace the poll, held in Ames the summer before every contested presidential caucus since 1979. It has become a lavish affair where campaigns wine, dine, and entertain supporters.

‘‘It’s a tedious effort. It costs a lot of money. It’s totally irrelevant at the end of the day. It used to be a test of organization,’’ said Ed Rollins, who managed Michele Bachmann’s campaign when she won the 2012 straw poll.

John McCain, the GOP’s nominee in 2008, and onetime favorite Rudy Giuliani opted not to compete for the straw poll, turned off by the event’s heavy influence by Christian conservatives. They ran scaled down caucus campaigns as a result.


Mitt Romney did not compete in the 2011 straw poll.

Advocates of the straw poll contend the money helps finance the caucuses, which are party-run elections.