Interest waning in straw poll, Iowa GOP to discuss its fate

AP News
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Posted: Jun 10, 2015 9:44 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As a rising number of 2016 GOP hopefuls distance themselves from Iowa's Republican Straw Poll, state party officials are set to discuss the future of the event during a Friday conference call.

Iowa GOP spokesman Charlie Szold confirmed Wednesday that a call had been set up, but he declined to provide further details. The call was first reported in the Des Moines Register.

A carnival-like event that draws thousands of activists, the poll is scheduled for Aug. 8, but so far few 2016 prospects have committed to attend. State GOP officials have fought to keep the popular gathering alive, even cutting the fees to rent space to pitch tents at the event. Still, critics say the event has become a costly sideshow, and many candidates fear the humiliation of a poor showing.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are among those who plan to skip the event. Others have said they won't spend money to participate.

Bill Gustoff, a member of the State Central Committee that governs the party, said in a statement Wednesday that the conference call would include an update on planning for the poll. He said no vote had been scheduled, though the group "certainly may take action on the event."

"I love the Iowa Straw Poll, but I am not opposed to abandoning it if the interest is lacking among the potential candidates and attendees to ensure that it is a successful event," Gustoff said.

The fate of the poll was much discussed last Saturday at a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Joni Ernst, which was held at the site in Boone where the poll is scheduled. Ernst said that candidates should join in, but she noted that opting out would not be disqualifying.

Held since 1979, the Republican straw poll is considered an early but unreliable test of strength in presidential campaigns. In the six polls conducted since that first year, the winner has gone on to win the state caucuses three times. The eventual Republican nominee has won the poll only twice.

In 2011, about 17,000 people turned out for the poll, far fewer than the roughly 120,000 who voted in the January 2012 caucuses. Candidate Michele Bachmann spent $2 million on the straw poll and won, but she left the race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses. The eventual GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, did not participate in the straw poll.

Graham on Saturday said the poll was "not a good return on investment."