Iowa's GOP governor knocks 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.
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Since 1979, would-be Republican presidential candidates have headed to Ames, Iowa for the Iowa Straw Poll -- which has long been cast as one of the earliest indicators of how presidential candidates will fare in the Iowa caucuses and the GOP primaries. The state's Republican governor, however, thinks it's time to put an end to the tradition.

"I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness," Gov. Terry Branstad said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over."

The Straw Poll, held in August the year before a presidential election year, usually attracts around 15,000 Iowans who cast ballots for their preferred GOP nominee. But as's Brian Montopoli reported last year, the event is something of a "fraudulent affair... in which votes are bought and Iowans are bribed to attend with free barbecue and entertainment."

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann managed to win last year's straw poll after investing heavily in the event, but her presidential campaign quickly fizzled. She eventually finished sixth in the Iowa caucuses. Mitt Romney, who of course won the GOP nomination, didn't bother to bus in supporters to last year's straw poll.

"The straw poll is a disservice to Iowa Republicans in that it discourages top-tier candidates from attending, and therein threatens their participation in the caucuses, a la John McCain and Rudy Giuliani," Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register. "Or, a candidate still finds success in the caucus despite not participating (Mitt Romney) or finishes sixth in the caucuses despite winning the straw poll (Michele Bachmann)."

As the Journal pointed out, only two Straw Poll winners went on to win the GOP nomination: Bob Dole in 1995 and George W. Bush in 1999.

Other Iowa Republicans chided Branstad for his critique of the event, which also serves as a fundraiser for the state GOP. "Gov. Branstad is wrong, and this is not a decision he will make, anyway," A.J. Spiker, chairman of the state GOP, told the Journal. "It is a decision the party and the candidates will make."