Iowa GOP votes to end straw poll

Updated

The Iowa straw poll is dead. 

In a unanimous vote Friday, the Iowa Republican Party State Central Committee decided to cancel the 2015 Iowa Straw Poll. A GOP rite of passage, the straw poll was an event where the party faithful would flock to mingle with presidential candidates, eat fried food and listen to country music with their families.

But for participating candidates, spending time and money on the event rarely paid off. Since the straw poll’s inception in 1979, only two winners have gone on to win the Iowa caucus and the party nomination – Bob Dole and George W. Bush.  

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“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,” Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. 

“Canceling the event is not a decision anyone on the State Central Committee took lightly,” Kaufmann continued. “While we still deeply believe that the Straw Poll offers a fantastic opportunity for candidates, we need to focus on strengthening our First in the Nation status and putting a Republican back in the White House.”

As 2016 contenders like Jeb Bush and previous Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee decided they would not participate, the fate of the annual event was unclear. The Iowa Republican Party attempted to eliminate concerns by moving from Ames – the location it was historically held since 1979 – to Boone and eliminating the land auction, where campaigns bid on the best location. 

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“By moving the event to Boone and ending the land auction, with a unanimous vote, these moves ultimately killed it,” one former senior party official told msnbc, requesting anonymity so he could speak candidly.

In March the party voted on a new venue. The event was planned to be held on Aug. 8 in Boone at the Central Iowa Expo. But the outdoor location and restroom facilities consisting of only porta-potties left some uncertainty.

“Nobody knew what to expect out of Boone,” the official said. “They eliminated the land auction, which locked in campaigns and got commitments the day they bought lots. You knew who was competing!”

Many point to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad piling on the event as giving Friday’s decision momentum. Branstad has publicly questioned the relevance of the straw poll, saying it “outlived its usefulness.”

“It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over,” Branstad said in 2012.

The 2011 straw poll is the one that ultimately ruined the event, according to Iowa Republicans who spoke to msnbc. 

Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota congresswoman, beat former Rep. Ron Paul by 150 votes after her campaign bused in supporters from across the state and even hired singer Randy Travis as the entertainment.

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But Bachmann never caught on in Iowa, finishing in sixth place on the night of the Iowa caucus, garnering just 5% of the vote. 

This move could spell trouble for the Republican National Committee, which is already dealing with deciding what candidates make the debate stage. 

Without a straw poll, how will the extremely large field of candidates get winnowed down before caucus night? The straw poll used to knock out presidential hopefuls.  Tim Pawlenty, Sam Brownback and Elizabeth Dole all dropped out after finishing in third place at the straw poll. 

The RNC may face an extremely large field of candidates choosing to go the distance, with no incentive to drop out, especially given the state of money in politics.

As the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR fans, the Iowa straw poll was the unofficial kick-off to the presidential campaign season for Republicans. And now, the party is left wondering – what to do now?

Correction: Due to an editing error, this post previously reported that the straw poll is held annually.

Iowa

Iowa GOP votes to end straw poll

Updated