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Evangelical group ready to save endangered Iowa straw poll

Republican presidential candidates (L to R) former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, Texas congressman Ron Paul, Michigan congressman Thaddeus McCotter, businessman Herman Cain, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann pose for a picture at the Iowa Straw Poll at Iowa State University August 13, 2011 in Ames, Iowa.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The straw poll that hurtled Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Iowa, into headlines for a fleeting period during the early stages of the 2012 presidential election is in jeopardy of being scrapped by state party officials - but not if one nonprofit evangelical conservative group has anything to say about it.

"I'm not sure what the future of the straw poll is," said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, who has said his organization will host a summit in Ames, Iowa in August 2015, whether or not the Iowa GOP holds an official straw poll. Hawkeye State Gov. Terry Branstad has suggested nixing the decades-old tradition, of which the past two cycles' eventual nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, opted out.

"It used to be an organizational test and then it became a really big money thing and now I think it's become less relevant in light of the last couple of elections," Branstad said following last November's election.

The Family Leader will put on a similar event this Saturday in Ames, which has confirmed appearances by possible 2016 contenders, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rick Santorum - ultimately the GOP's 2012 Iowa Caucus victor - as well as real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star Donald Trump.

"If the straw poll doesn't take place, this event is going to be poised to be a magnet for candidates and for the base to get a really good look at who they want to support in the caucus," Vander Plaats said, according to the Des Moines Register. In a separate interview with Radio Iowa, he predicted his 2015 conference could be either "a stand-alone event or working in relationship with the Iowa Straw Poll."

Branstad this week said he's open to an outside group hosting a straw poll in lieu of the state's usual event.

"Anybody who wants to can have a straw poll," Branstad said during his weekly news conference. "I don't have any problem with that at all. My interest is protecting the Iowa precinct caucuses. That's the first real test of voters, both Republican and Democrats participating in a process to begin the nomination of the next president of the United States.

"We've worked long and hard, and we've had great bipartisan cooperation over the years to keep the Iowa caucuses first in the nation," he went on. "I'm committed to doing that."

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