Branstad defends Iowa GOP Straw Poll

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says his campaign won’t participate in the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll this August.

During an interview this morning that will air tonight on IPTV, I asked Iowa Governor Terry Branstad if Romney’s decision makes the event irrelevant.

“No, I don’t think so. Remember last time Rudy Giuliani and some others actually skipped the Straw Poll,” Branstad replied.

I pointed out John McCain skipped it, too — and he won the party’s presidential nomination.

“Romney actually won the Straw Poll,” Branstad replied. “I think Romney said he is going to participate in the debate (here in Iowa before the Straw Poll). He is also going to participate in the Caucuses, he’s not going to spend as much money and effort on straw polls because he thinks, you know,they’re not a real test. But nevertheless, the (Ames) Straw Poll is a way, especially for a relatively unknown candidate to become better known. Last time, of course, Huckabee coming in second in the Straw Poll gave him some momentum and he ended up winning the Iowa Caucuses, so whoever does well in the Straw Poll may well become a contender to rival Romney who right now is the front-runner, even ahead of Obama in some of the polls.”

Critics of the Ames Straw Poll say it is “unseemly” for the Iowa Republican Party to “fleece” the campaigns for money (the Iowa GOP rents space outside Hilton Coliseum — where the candidates deliver speeches and the straw poll voting takes place; prime locations closest to the venue are more expensive to rent). And others say the Straw Poll essentially gives Iowa Republicans two “first” contests in the race for the White House.  “Would it do your party well to not have a Straw Poll at all?” I asked.

“Well, this is something we’ve had a long tradition,” Branstad replied. “It’s been going on for many election cycles. It’s been a good fundraiser for the party and it builds enthusiasm and it gives the candidates a chance to build a grassroots organization, so I think the party feels that this is a useful tool, but I think we need to look at it for what it is. It’s not scientific.  It’s really just a test of organization and the true test, of course, is going to be who wins the Iowa Caucuses next winter.”