Every four years, Republican presidential hopefuls descend on the Iowa college town of Ames for something that was never meant to be more than a fundraising gimmick: the Ames Straw Poll. The quadrennial event on the campus of Iowa State University is essentially a Midwest county fair flavored with politics — fried food and country bands, plus a nonbinding preference poll on candidates interested in running for the Republican presidential nomination. The straw poll is not related to the Iowa caucuses, which in any case don’t take place until the following year. Yet somehow it has come to be seen as a legitimate test of a candidate’s political strength and organizational prowess.
It isn’t. Unfortunately, what was once a quirky piece of political fun that no one took too seriously has morphed into a showdown that drives potentially good candidates away. Which is why Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, has sensibly called for an end to the Ames straw poll.