Political Animal


November 21, 2012 8:08 AM Jumping the Gun

By Ed Kilgore

Hate to be the first to tell you, but 2016 speculation has already begun, and worse yet, I’m not talking about candidates but about process.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has just called for abolition of the event that more or less formally kicks off the entire presidential circus, the State GOP Straw Poll in Ames, typically held in the summer before the actual nominating contest. He was immediately and angrily rebuked by Iowa GOP chair A.J. Spiker (not a Branstad appointee, but part of the post-Caucus Ron Paul coup that took control of the state party mechanism and most of the Iowa convention delegation):

“I believe the Iowa Straw Poll is possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize (put in place county and precinct leaders & activate them) for Iowa’s First in the Nation Caucus,” Spiker said in a statement on the Iowa GOP website. “I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames and I disagree with Governor Branstad about ending our Iowa Straw Poll.”

The Straw Poll’s usefulness to Iowa Republicans has been all about money—directly, because tickets bought by presidential campaigns constitute the major source of party funds in presidential election years, and indirectly, because the event encourages candidates to “play early” in Iowa, spending their dollars.

But the Straw Poll’s value as a predictor of who will win the Iowa Caucuses is at best limited: Mitt Romney won in 2007 and Michele Bachmann in 2011. The main impact of the event in the latest cycle was to croak the one candidacy that might have eventually given Mitt Romney a run for his money as a viable-and-electable-conservative-alternative: that of Tim Pawlenty.

Truth is the decision on Straw Poll won’t be made until the runup to the next presidential cycle, when Branstad and Spicer may not be in their current positions. But the debate shows that presidential election season never really ends in Iowa.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on November 21, 2012 8:34 AM:

    Yes, they must keep it - because nothing is a greater predictor of a Republican candidates success in winning the nomination, and the General Election, than winning the Iowa straw poll, voted on by mostly old, white people.

    Let see, who did they get right in 6 contested polls since 1979?
    1996: Bob Dole - in a tie with Phil Gramm.
    1999: George W. Bush

    That's it.

    Outside of that, it's a MSM Circus, that brings in outside money.

    I've reworked this great line from Macbeth:
    The Ames poll's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets it's hours upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by idiots, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

  • boatboy_srq on November 21, 2012 8:54 AM:

    I'm all for keeping the straw poll. Events like this one seem to be the only way to convince the GOTea to inject funds into the economy; and if it bleeds the Teahad of a little cash early on, that's hardly a bad thing. Plus, it helps Iowa - and if the weather continues to be as ugly as the last year or two, by 2015 they'll need something to offset the crop failures, and you know full well Steve King isn't about to let a little AGCC get in the way of his war on "entitlements".

  • T2 on November 21, 2012 9:10 AM:

    I'm all for the GOP Straw Poll - make them put their Crazy Cards on the table early so the rest of the nation can start laughing at them. Any Straw Poll that elects Michele Bachmann to be a presidential candidate is, at best, fodder for SNL skits.

  • berttheclock on November 21, 2012 9:12 AM:

    Geez, but, I was expecting the newest poster person for the Republicans, Lisa Biron, would rise to the top in Iowa. Why, she appears to represent their finest hypocritical values. Of course, the Republican lawyer from New Hampshire might have to get out of prison, first, on child porn charges and trafficking with a minor for sex. Another rising Alliance Defending Freedom star is born and bites the dust.

  • Mudge on November 21, 2012 10:31 AM:

    All most Republicans care about is politics, not governing. This was made more obvious than usual this week when the Repugs pounded on Christie for actually acting like a governor in NJ during Sandy. He is being discounted as a candidate in 2016 because he cooperated with Obama. The Repugs are also seeking ways to cripple Obamacare at the state level. Rather than accept that the law is in place and actually care about their citizens, they want it to fail in order to criticize Obama. Walker wants to destroy election day registration in Wisconsin. Voter suppression is politics, not governing. I won't list the idiocies of the Republican house members.

    So, of course the Repugs are starting the 2016 political campaign, but it is not early. It is all they know.

  • Leopold von Ranke on November 21, 2012 10:49 AM:

    As an Iowan, I would certainly miss the straw poll. It is a mostly humorous interlude in what has become, as the article suggests, an omnipresent campaign.

  • Grumpy on November 21, 2012 10:56 AM:

    But the Straw Pollís value as a predictor of who will win the Iowa Caucuses is at best limited...

    ...If only because the Iowa Caucuses are also bullshit.

    If the GOP actually reformed the primary schedule such that the states with the closest vote in the last election went first, I might consider voting for the party on that basis alone.