By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - The Iowa Republican Party on Friday killed the state's high-profile presidential straw poll, putting an end to a decades-old political tradition that had outlived its usefulness.
The circus-like summer event, planned for August 8, had traditionally served as a test of organizing strength that helped winnow the Republican presidential field in the state that kicks off the White House nominating race.
But several prominent Republicans, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, had ruled out participating in this year's non-binding preference poll. None of the top names in the growing 2106 list of Republican candidates had committed to attending the event, scheduled more than a year before the November 2016 general election.
The Iowa party's state central committee voted unanimously to kill the event in an early morning conference call.
"I've said since December that we would only hold a straw poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year that is just not the case," Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement after the vote.
Candidates have grumbled about the time and cost necessary to participate in the straw poll, a fundraiser for the state party that began in 1979. It has been criticized for boosting minor candidates and not reflecting the broader preferences of Iowa Republicans. Winners have not seen any real momentum from their performance.
Neither of the last two straw poll winners - Mitt Romney in 2007 and Michelle Bachmann in 2011 - went on to win the Iowa nominating contest the next year. After her surprise win, Bachmann stumbled to a sixth-place finish in Iowa and soon dropped out of the race.
The last straw poll winner to go all the way was George W. Bush, who went on to capture Iowa, the Republican nomination and the White House in 2000.
The state party had moved the site of this year's straw poll, which traditionally featured speeches by the candidates and tents for each campaign featuring food, music and games, from Ames to nearby Boone, Iowa.
But faced with the prospect of limited participation by candidates, some state activists worried a desultory straw poll would fuel criticism of Iowa's first-in-the-nation status.
"This step, while extremely distasteful for those of us who love the straw poll, is necessary to strengthen our first-in-the-nation status and ensure our future nominee has the best chance possible to take back the White House in 2016," Kaufmann said.
(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)