Real estate in Ames starting at $15,000

Texas Congressman/Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul won the bidding today for the prime piece of real estate just outside Hilton Coliseum in Ames for the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll in August.  The party auctioned off spots today (in private), with a starting bid of $15,000.   The Ron Paul campaign sent out a press release announcing Paul had placed the highest bid, but did not disclosure the dollar amount. (The Register reports $31,000.)

According to sources, candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and the aforementioned Ron Paul all had folks in the room to place bids.  Another person in the room was there for Congressman Thaddeus McCotter. a Michigan Republican who has indicated he may run for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination.  Today is the one and only day campaigns may buy Straw Poll party spots from the Grand Old Party in Iowa.

Campaigns of the past have staged concerts on their reserved spots on the grassy property outside Hilton Coliseum, although Crystal Gayle’s rendition of “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue” at Lamar Alexander’s party set-up was perhaps an omen for Alexander’s 1999 Straw Poll performance. (Alexander dropped out of the race after a poor Straw Poll showing.)

Most campaigns have served food from their rented plots in Ames, although I remember only a keg of beer at Dan Quayle’s tent and a crew of ISU students who belonged to the same fraternity as Quayle enjoying the brew.

Steve Forbes has held the title of most extravagant Straw Poll party.  Forbes folks hosted a sit-down meal in an air-conditioned tent with a playground nearby for the kiddies.

Motorcycle entourages have also been a feature of the past, as both Morry Taylor and Pat Buchanan rolled into the parking lots outside Hilton Coliseum with a cavalcade of Harleys and other motorized bikes.

During last weekend’s edition of “Iowa Press” I asked Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn about the Straw Poll.

Henderson: Mr. Strawn, not far down the path your party will host a straw poll in Ames in August whereby republican presidential candidates will see a first test, so to speak, in the first caucus state.  There are critics of that straw poll.  They say you are fleecing the candidates by renting out the space, requiring an entry fee and also that this, in essence, gives Iowa two opportunities to have a first test in the campaign.  How do you handle that criticism?

Strawn: Well, I think a lot of those critics come from outside our border, people that are jealous that their state doesn’t have the first-in-the-nation status that Iowa does and I think some of those critics also don’t want to see Iowa republicans successful with our fundraising efforts.  But it is a great time to be an Iowa republican.   May marked the 27th consecutive month that Iowa republicans have gained on Iowa democrats in voter registration.  Since Barack Obama was inaugurated President more than 65,000 Iowans have left the ranks of registered Iowa democrats, that is over ten percent of their membership and I think we’re going to see that enthusiasm continue at the straw poll and I think it’s a great organizing tool not just for those presidential candidates to get a test of their organization but the fact that Iowa is one of eight states that will determine the presidency in November because it is a true swing state having a successful straw poll will help us organize for that.

Henderson: But you said it’s a successful fundraiser for the party.  You’re essentially raising funds from candidates who in the general election may be facing off against a President who has a billion dollar war chest.  Is that wise for your party to be siphoning off that money for the republican party of Iowa when it could go for those candidates farther on down the road?

Strawn: Well, actually every candidate makes a resource decision in every campaign.  It is extremely costly and expensive to advertise in the Boston media market to reach New Hampshire voters.  So, each individual candidate has to decide are they going to pay for expensive ads in Boston or are they going to pay for a $30- straw poll ticket in Ames?  I would suggest Mike Huckabee is a perfect example of how you get a tremendous return on your investment without investing a significant amount of resources.  If you as a candidate have a message that is connected with Iowa voters, they will vote for you in the straw poll and I have the perfect example.  I was in Clayton County last night up in Garnavillo, about as far as you can get from Ames, and people up there were talking about how excited they were to come to the straw poll and they haven’t even decided which candidate they’re going to support yet.  So, this notion that campaigns have to buy those tickets when individual Iowa republicans are excited to spend their own $30 to hear from the candidates I think really goes against that national narrative that hasn’t proven accurate.

Henderson: Ms. Dvorsky, the Iowa Democratic Party doesn’t face this criticism because you don’t have a straw poll in advance of the caucuses.  Why did you make that decision?

Dvorsky: Because we don’t fundraise off of people’s ability to vote whether it is in a vote that is an actual part of the electoral process, that’s just not how we fundraise.  What we do for organizing purposes, and of course Matt is right that that’s an organizational tool, we organize sort of the old fashioned way, we go out there and knock it.  So, the voter registration piece, we still have a 35,000 voter registration edge, that is not what’s going on with the straw poll.  The republican core of caucus goers is going to, you know, they will determine what that is but at the end of the day Matt is right about one thing, this will start here and it will also end here and when those, whoever that eventual nominee is, is going to have to come back here and they’re going to have to answer …

Borg: Isn’t that the very question, though, Mr. Strawn, playing off Kay’s question here — you said that this is a time to, for voters to be able to meet candidates and so on.  Mitt Romney isn’t even going to be in the straw poll and yet this is a major winnowing of candidates function.  How relevant can the straw poll be if one of the major candidates isn’t even participating?

Strawn: Well, that ultimate decision is going to be made by the voters.  It isn’t for the chairman of the party, who has to remain neutral in the process, to assess the wisdom of different candidate decisions.  One thing we do know given a very fluid field here in Iowa there are a lot of campaigns that need to test their organization to see how their message is resonating with Iowans and I have great confidence that the straw poll is going to be a tremendous success, not just from the benefit of the republican party of Iowa but for those candidates and for those Iowans that are looking for new leadership.  I mean, at the end of the day when you have an incumbent president it is going to be a referendum on the failed leadership of Barack Obama.  And part of that process of getting Iowa’s six electoral votes for the republican nominee starts with a successful straw poll that helps our party organize here in Iowa

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.