Once again, Iowa is front-and-center in American presidential politics.
On November 20, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad expressed to the Wall Street Journal an opinion held by many Republicans, namely, that the time has come to end the quadrennial Republican Presidential Straw Poll in Ames.
The governor’s statements touched off several days of discussion and debate over television, radio, newspaper, internet blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as at water coolers and lunch tables across Iowa.
Responding to the governor’s comments, Republican Party of Iowa State Chairman A.J. Spiker disagreed, telling the Wall Street Journal that such a decision was not the governor’s to make, and that only the duly elected state party can decide the matter.
Proponents of the straw poll cite at least five reasons why the Republican Party of Iowa should keep the tradition. First, it creates enthusiasm for the presidential caucuses among the grassroots. Second, it brings in a lot of money for the state party. Third, it creates a lot of national media attention for Iowa. Fourth, it traditionally helps the political viability of one or two Davids who are going up against Goliaths. And fifth, it tends to favor conservative candidates, who are less likely to compromise the principles of moral law, individual liberty, free enterprise, limited government, and national security.
Opponents of the straw poll, however, ask a valid question: Do Iowans want as many Republican presidential candidates as possible visiting the state as often as possible? If so, then why would the Republican Party of Iowa risk scaring them away by forcing them to participate in a non-binding straw poll that is expensive, potentially humiliating, and potentially campaign-ending, especially when it is a full five to six months before the real contest, which is the Iowa Caucuses?
Iowans can debate for some time whether Governor Branstad’s political assessment of the straw poll is accurate. But that will not change the organizational fact that the decision cannot be made in 2012, nor in 2013, nor in 2014. The straw poll’s fate will not be settled until at least February 2015, ten months after 16 new State Central Committee members are elected in April 2014, and one month after a state party chairman is elected in January 2015. Until then, all straw poll predictions are speculative.
For now, Republicans have bigger battles to fight. Like those against Democrats. We can start by finding candidates to run for city council and school board seats in Iowa’s 1,000 communities next year. Then, in 2014, we can work on wresting control of the Iowa Senate from Mike Gronstal, and by defeating the perennial enemy of life and liberty, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.
There is plenty to do. The straw poll question can wait. It must wait. For at least 26 months.
Jamie Johnson is a state central committeeman for the Republican Party of Iowa