Caffeinated Thoughts learned of a letter that Congressman Steve King (R-IA) sent to the members of the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee yesterday advocating for the party to preserve the Ames Straw Poll.
The Ames Straw Poll has historically been a huge success. In 1979, Ronald Reagan and I each skipped the first Straw Poll. Reagan went on to become president. I went on to attend each Straw Poll since. The Straw Poll serves as the first test of a presidential candidate’s organizational ability and support. Of the six Straw Poll winners, four went on to become eventual nominees and two became president. Not bad considering we have had only three Republican presidents since the straw poll began. In fact, since Reagan, no Republican has gone on to win the presidency without first winning the Ames Straw Poll. The Straw Poll serves as the launch of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus season and raises a respectable amount of money for the party.
Some time about a year ago, I began picking up signals that there were those in powerful places who were working to end the Straw Poll. The opposition was coming from those who seek the power to manipulate the outcome of the nomination by reducing the influence of the grassroots. Our grassroots needs more influence, not less.
I then set about protecting our first in the nation status by taking steps to protect the Ames Straw Poll. The RPI State Central Committee is the sole decider on an RPI straw poll. I spoke with or otherwise communicated with each candidate for central committee and deliberately endorsed only those who expressed support for the Ames Straw Poll. All sixteen won.
Now we are engaged in a public dialog over whether RNC rules prohibit an Iowa Straw Poll. That is fresh news to me as of last Saturday when I spoke with Chairman Priebus. It was also news to Chairman Kaufmann, Steve Scheffler, and former Chairman A.J. Spiker who was our RPI chairman when the new rules were written. I have now reviewed the rules.
The rule in question specifies that it applies ONLY to statewide contests where one may express a preference between candidates for President “in a primary, caucuses (sic.) or state convention”. The Ames Straw Poll is NOT in a primary, in caucuses, or in a state convention. Instead, it is a party fundraiser and political rally. The argument otherwise is a distraction. The rules do not speak to, nor do they contemplate, nor do they prohibit a straw poll.
I am concerned that the delay in setting the exact date for the Straw Poll leaves us vulnerable to competing events around the country. The sooner an announcement can be made, the quicker and more effectively we can plan and the more successful the event will be. I have done my due diligence in support of our cause. Please count me as your dedicated partner and move quickly.
Member of Congress
Iowa District #4
King makes a great point that those behind ending the straw poll seek to reduce the influence of the grassroots. Governor Terry Branstad seems to be concerned about establishment candidates being slighted, and that the straw poll has typically favored candidates outside of the establishment. As I suggested before, I believe the only legitimate beef with the Ames Straw Poll that candidates have is feeling fleeced. If there is a way to address that then there should be no reason for presidential campaigns to skip out – unless they don’t want to engage with grassroots. Also while this story is being blown up in the media, the drive behind this is a relatively small circle of people. I had a State Central Committee member tell me this week that he has had only two people reach out to him to end the straw poll. That’s telling.
I agree with Congressman King. The Iowa GOP State Central Committee needs to preserve the Ames Straw Poll, work on improving it to make it more palatable for candidates, and set a date quickly.
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