June 12, 2015

It’s Official: Iowa Straw Poll Dead

  9:28 am

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May 29, 2015

What if Iowa Holds a Straw Poll and No One Comes?

  3:46 pm

When Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would not compete at the (new and improved?) Iowa Straw Poll this August, all eyes turned to the other candidates to see what they would do. After all, Iowa’s own Republican governor publicly said the straw poll has outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to die, but the Iowa GOP voted to continue the circus for at least one more go round. Would anybody show up? Or would the conventional wisdom — a candidate has almost nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing — prevail, meaning the straw poll would be playing to an empty room?

The body blows continued: Shortly after he announced he was running for president, Lindsey Graham announced he would not be competing. Then Marco Rubio’s campaign said it would be “highly unlikely” the Senator would compete, either. And now, we might be able to write the pre-mortem for the Iowa Straw Poll everybody is itching to write.

The Iowa GOP held an informational meeting for campaigns who are interested in the August event, and only seven campaigns (out of a potential 18) showed up:

  • Ben Carson
  • Chris Christie
  • Ted Cruz
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Rick Perry
  • Donald Trump

Making it worse, one of those seven campaigns was Lindsey Graham’s, who made it clear they weren’t joining the straw poll but were just attending out of respect for the Iowa Republican Party. So in reality, only six campaigns are even interested in competing this year. Six out of eighteen — let that sink in for a moment.

Noticeably absent: Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Rand’s father used to make a political career out of gaming straw polls; it looks like Paul the Younger has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Santorum’s lack of interest in the straw poll matches Huckabee’s in terms of seriousness: both have won the Iowa caucuses, but now face the reality of weakened support and severely negative press should they compete and lose here in August.

Scott Walker’s absence may be the most startling, however. With Bush and Rubio both bowing out, one would think this would be a prime opportunity for Governor Walker to score an early and easy victory. Plus, the Iowa caucuses are an absolute must-win for him come February, being a neighboring conservative governor, so the Straw Poll would give him a chance to put a slew of organizational pieces into place early. He must have decided the risk wasn’t worth it, though — and who could blame him?

So who is planning to compete? Donald Trump and Ben Carson. That’s it. Those are the only two candidates who have committed to attend the 2015 straw poll. Even if Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, and Perry all decide to get in (remember, Perry famously skipped the straw poll last time to announce his candidacy at the Red State event), that’s not much of a lineup to attract voters. While it might be a few minutes of fun to watch Christie bloviate all over a roomful of Iowans, nobody would mistake this for a serious event in any way, shape, or form. (Which is why I think Fiorina will ultimately skip it as well – she is desperately trying to be seen as a serious candidate, and running around at an event where Donald Trump could be the main headliner certainly doesn’t play into that.)

And so it is that the straw poll fizzles out and finally dies, with little fanfare or recognition. RIP, Ames Straw Poll, 1979-2015. It was fun while it lasted.

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March 2, 2015

News, And Yet No News

  3:17 pm

The CPAC event just concluded in Washington, DC has proven, through its straw poll, to be another mostly irrelevant marker in the presidential election cycle. The winner of the straw poll was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Coming in second was Wisconsin Senator Scott Walker. Third and fourth were Ben Carson and TexasmSenator Ted Cruz. Only Mr. Walker has a serious chance to win the nomination, but his finish at CPAC had already been foreshadowed weeks before, following a speech he made in Iowa, and in all of the recent polls. Coming in a distant fifth at CPAC was the Republican frontrunner former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Further down the list was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potentially serious contender, especially after the first debates and the primary/caucus season begins.

The next GOP presidential campaign marker will be the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames in August. This will be, as it has been in the past, another mostly irrelevant event. In 2011, the Straw Poll winner was Michele Bachmann who turned out not to be a serious contender. The Straw Poll rarely is won by the eventual GOP nominee.

A parade of self-promoting wannabes, such as Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, will continue to win media headlines in the coming months, and various other political figures will attempt to rise about the lower tiers of the field. It can be done. Scott Walker has already done this. But the eventual nominee will be someone who can win votes in the primaries and caucuses from the broader base of the conservative Republican Party. And if that nominee is to win the presidency in November, 2016, he or she will need to win a majority of votes from the non-affiliated independent voters in the nation. A good many, if not most, of those voters are more centrist than the base voters of either party, and that is why the serious contenders for president do not come from the far right or the far left.

On the Democratic side, the party awaits the formal decision of former New York Senator Hillary Clinton. She has been the overwhelming frontrunner of her party for 2016 from the beginning. Her image and her numbers have declined a bit in recent months, and her “handlers” have thus kept her out of the campaign spotlight, but her lead remains very large. Only Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has emerged as a potential threat, yet Mrs. Warren might not even run.

There are two campaign seasons in the race for president of the United States. The earlier and longer one is managed with the cooperation of the political party activists and the news media. It is usually an extended melodrama punctuated by such events as the CPAC conference, the Iowa Straw Poll, Jefferson dinners and talk shows where large numbers of hopefuls attempt, with histrionics and bravado, to become larger than life, and grab the notice of the relatively few folks who are paying attention. The second campaign is the one where voters increasingly pay attention, and which climaxes on Election Day.

I don’t have to say which of these campaigns counts most.

————————————————————————————————————————-
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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February 28, 2015

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll

  5:00 pm

CNN has the story:

Sen. Rand Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll for the third year in a row on Saturday, with 25.7% of the vote, event organizers announced Saturday at the National Harbor, Maryland, Confab.

But the biggest winner of the straw poll was perhaps Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who catapulted from fifth last year to second place this year and came in just four points behind Paul, with 21.4% support. He delivered one of the conference’s best-received speeches, laying out his vision for the economy and drawing enthusiastic applause that overshadowed a tone-deaf answer he gave on foreign policy.

Read the full post here.

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November 20, 2014

Time to Kill the Iowa Straw Poll

  3:39 pm

There are few events in the Republican pre-primary process with as much fanfare and press attention as the Ames Iowa Straw Poll. First held in 1979, every time there is an open GOP contest, the Straw Poll has been a part of the pre-primary ritual. But the 2011 Straw Poll ought to be the last one. It’s time to kill off the Iowa Straw Poll.

First, let’s get a few things out of the way to start. Yes, the Straw Poll brings a huge amount of media coverage to our side of primaries. Yes, the Straw Poll raises a ton of money for the Iowa Republican Party. Yes, there is often genuine suspense about what the results will be. Yes the candidates use it to get an early test of their organization. Yes, it gives us political junkies a chance to look at the field before it winnows down by the end of the year. All of these things are true, but the negatives about the Straw Poll outweigh the positives.

One of the biggest complaints about the Straw Poll is the money involved. It’s very expensive to compete in the Straw Poll; in 1999, George W. Bush spent north of $750,000 on the Straw Poll and Steve Forbes shelled out even more than that. Mitt Romney spent a good deal of money in 2007 and in 2011 the only Tim Pawlenty campaign ads of the cycle were to try and appeal to Straw Poll goers. Even with some of the ridiculous spending that goes on in presidential campaigns, the Iowa Straw Poll is almost in a category all its own. Steve Forbes is the best example of this; to earn a second place in 1999, he had a two story, air-conditioned tent and a blimp inside the coliseum. Money is a precious commodity in presidential campaigns and candidates who are on a shoe-string budget find it very hard to compete at this event.

The second big problem with the Straw Poll is the overemphasis that is put on an event. Remember, the Straw Poll is only a small subset of the caucus goers. The 2011 Straw Poll had 16,892 participates while the actual 2012 Iowa Caucuses had 121,140 participants. In other words, less than 20% of the people who went out to caucus had gone to the Straw Poll. Secondly, a lot of candidates end up putting all their eggs in the Straw Poll basket. Tim Pawlenty, Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback, Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander in 2000, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting were all driven out of the race because of an even that had nothing at stake. I’m not saying any of these people should’ve been our nominee or would have done well in the actual Iowa Caucus, but one could argue that their campaigns were prematurely ended because of the Straw Poll.

Most importantly, the Iowa Straw Poll is often wrong. Very wrong. The last Straw Poll in 2011 is the most egregious example of this. The top three candidates were Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty. Out of those three, Pawlenty dropped out the day after the Straw Poll, Bachmann finished dead last in the Caucus, and Ron Paul, whatever your feelings about him, was never going to be the Republican nominee. In fact, in the last three Straw Polls, one of the top three candidates have dropped out of the race before the Caucuses even began. Most tellingly, the last two Republican nominees for President skipped the Straw Poll in the year they won the nomination. John McCain never competed in the Straw Poll in either 1999 or 2007 and Mitt Romney, after winning the Straw Poll in 2007 but losing the caucuses, skipped the Straw Poll altogether and nearly won the caucuses anyways.

Fortunately there are voices in Iowa that recognize the increasing irrelevancy of the Straw Poll. Governor Terry Branstad, who is popular enough to have been elected to a sixth term as Governor declared that the Straw Poll has “outlived its usefulness” and should at the very least be radically restructured. The new Chairman of the Iowa GOP, Jeff Kaufmann is an ally of Governor Branstad and has said that the Straw Poll will be addressed before the end of the year. Here’s hoping they just decide to nix the Straw Poll altogether.

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November 19, 2014

RNC 2018 Straw Poll Lists 33 Possible Candidates

  11:32 am

The Republican National Committee recently began an on-line straw poll asking its members which candidate they would like to see. The respondents are to circle any three. The list includes:

  1. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte
  2. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
  3. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton
  4. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
  5. Businessman Herman Cain
  6. Dr. Ben Carson
  7. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  8. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
  9. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels
  10. Former CEO Carly Fiona
  11. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
  12. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
  13. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
  14. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
  15. Ohio Gov. John Kasich
  16. New York Rep. Peter King
  17. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez
  18. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
  19. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
  20. Former Rep. Ron Paul
  21. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty
  22. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
  23. Texas Gov. Rick Perry
  24. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman
  25. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
  26. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
  27. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan
  28. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval
  29. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
  30. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott
  31. South Dakota Sen. John Thune
  32. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
  33. Former Florida Rep. Allen West

Write-in votes are allowed.

The results have not been published anywhere that I’ve seen, and I don’t particularly wish to sign up just so they can get my email address to spam me. However, if you are inclined to participate, here is the link.

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March 8, 2014

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll

  9:50 pm


Full results: Paul 31%, Ted Cruz 11%, Ben Carson 9%, Chris Christie 8%

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March 16, 2013

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll – Rubio a Close Second

  5:21 pm

Via First Read:

“Torch of liberty” scion Rand Paul was the choice of the plurality of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference, as Paul won the much-hyped straw poll with 25 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was a close second with 23 percent.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Kentucky senator won the straw poll. This was not a weekend of self-reflection for conservatives. It was one of standing by principles, and no one more represents standing by principles than Paul.

Paul last week further endeared himself to conservatives by going through with a 13-hour filibuster – a modern-day record – of President Barack Obama’s nomination to be chief of central intelligence. That effort by the Tea Party favorite prompted Twitter hash tags, signs at CPAC, and even fundraising emails from the National Republican Senatorial Committee by the name of Stand With Rand.

Full story here.

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November 20, 2012

Iowa Governor: Time to End the Ames Straw Poll

  7:54 pm

The Wall Street Journal has the story:

Is one of the quirkiest rituals of the Republican presidential election calendar heading for the grave?

It is, if Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has his say.

Eyeing the wreckage of the 2011 Ames Straw Poll, which Rep. Michele Bachmann won only to fizzle as a candidate soon after, Mr. Branstad wants to do away with the whole thing.

“I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Mr. Branstad said of the 33-year-old GOP ritual. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over.”

Going back to 1979, Republican presidential contenders have flocked to Ames, Iowa, in August to eat fried food, dance to country bands and wheedle votes from the party faithful in what amounts to an overblown party fund-raiser disguised as a trial run for the real Iowa caucuses early the next year.

Its track record as an anointer of GOP nominees falls far shy of impressive. Only two victors, Bob Dole in 1995 and George W. Bush in 1999, went on to win the Iowa caucus the next year and then the nomination in November. And only one, Mr. Bush, went on to become president.

Full story here.

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April 5, 2012

Don’t You Just Love Beauty Contests?

  4:19 pm

The Worthington Daily Globe reports:

To hear North Dakota Republicans tell it, their endorsing convention last weekend in Bismarck was a triumph. To hear others who are not party types tell it, the convention was little more than a coronation bulldozer that shoved aside any dissent in the ranks.

The latter description has some validity. Here’s why.

Most of North Dakota’s 25 presidential convention delegates will trot off to Tampa this summer as supporters of current frontrunner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But how can that be? Just a few weeks ago North Dakota Republicans gathered in caucuses in every county in the state and (guess what?) handed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a convincing win. The second spot went to Texas Congressman Ron Paul. And Romney, who was awarded all the state’s delegates at the convention? Where did the convention’s choice finish after caucus votes were counted? A distant third, that’s where.

Which raises two questions:

First, why conduct caucuses if the results mean nothing when delegates to the national convention are selected?

Second, how can convention managers even suggest they conducted a representative delegate selection process when Santorum and Paul supporters were disenfranchised?

Not only did third-place-caucus finisher Romney get the convention’s nod, but party Chairman Stan Stein refused to allow further debate. One delegate who tried had her microphone turned off. So went the party bulldozer.

This is just one of many tales of such high-handed maneuvering that I’ve heard about in multiple states for or against one or more of the candidates. In many cases Romney was the victim. In some cases, Paul was the perpetrator. In others, Santorum. But no matter who’s the target or who’s at fault, these reports trouble me.

That first question raised in the article is perfectly legitimate. Why bother holding non-binding caucuses or primaries? They might give the winner bragging rights to be sure, but if they don’t mean a thing, then why bother? This sort of thing breeds anger, resentment and discontent among fellow Republicans. Good grief. Some Romney supporters still harbor a grudge over the maneuverings in West Virginia last time in 2008. We don’t need this sort of thing.

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