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The Iowa Straw Poll: Put a Stake Through Its Heart

Bachmann addresses supporters and media in Ames, Iowa, after winning the 2011 straw poll. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Bachmann addresses supporters and media in Ames, Iowa, after winning the 2011 straw poll. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Iowa Straw Poll is dead for 2015. Let’s hope it doesn’t resurrect its ugly head for the 2020 cycle and beyond.  

Almost four years ago I wrote a column , “The Nothingness of the Iowa Straw Poll,” in which I disclosed that I had canceled my trip to cover the 2011 straw poll. Given the decisions of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman not to participate, the Ames Iowa GOP fundraising event became, in my view, “little more than an opportunity to consume large amounts of beef, gossip and alcohol with my fellow journalists.”  

There was a time when we all thought the straw poll mattered, because it allegedly showed which candidates could energize supporters and turn them out at the event — just what the campaigns would need to do at the caucuses a few months down the road. Boy, were we wrong.  

It soon became clear the Iowa Straw Poll had little or no predictive value when it came to the Iowa caucuses or the GOP’s presidential nomination. Michele Bachmann’s victory in the 2011 poll, followed by her weak showing five months later in the caucuses, exposed to all the silliness of the event, which was nothing more than a fundraising vehicle for the state Republican Party.  

Still, political coverage being what it is, too many reporters and talking heads would have spent too much time talking about the straw poll had the Iowa GOP held it this year. Fox News would have covered it because its audience was interested in the Republican event, while MSNBC would have covered it to discredit the GOP. And CNN would have covered it because, well, that’s what CNN does.  

We can only hope the straw poll’s demise is permanent. Yes, it was a fun event, and I probably would have never seen a life-size replica of the Last Supper made out of butter had I not attended the state fair when I was in the Hawkeye State for the straw poll. But the event told us little or nothing about the Republican race, even if some hopefuls gave it far more credit than it deserved.  


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