By Mason City Globe Gazette
Here we go again, writing about presidential politics in Iowa. That’s probably not surprising given the fact a lot of professional pundits and those who are merely curious to see who’s snooping around the state with an eye on the 2016 race and the long process leading to the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
That’s OK by us. We like seeing who’s testing the waters. And we like it for more than the political aspect. The Iowa process brings in lots of money and focuses lots of attention on the state. That’s why we don’t want to see the GOP Straw Poll discontinued as suggested by Gov. Terry Branstad recently.
The Straw Poll, of course, is the big one-day event in Ames where candidates give their best presentations and those attending show their preference in the Straw Poll.
Candidates sink a lot of time and money in the poll trying to finish at or near the top, sometimes busing in people and plying them with food and entertainment in what’s become a picnic-style event. But the results are not binding, and like the caucuses, the Straw Poll winner doesn’t always become the party’s nominee.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann got the most support in the 2011 Straw Poll but ultimately dropped out of the presidential race and even struggled to retain her own seat in Congress in November.
Another neighbor to the north, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, dropped out of the race five months before the caucuses because he couldn’t recover from his third-place Straw Poll finish.
Mitt Romney didn’t even participate and ended up being the party’s nominee after being defeated by Rick Santorum by 34 votes in the Iowa caucuses.
Thus, Branstad said although the Straw Poll has been a great fundraiser for the party, he believes it has outlived its usefulness.
We agree with two north Iowa legislators who take what we believe are more practical views of the Straw Poll.
State Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said he looks at the results as being symbolic.
“But when I put on my economic development hat, I look at all of the money that is infused into the state, and that’s a good thing. And it engages a lot of young people into the process, and that’s a good thing, too,” he said. “Let’s go ahead and do it and have some fun, but let’s remember it’s early in the game.”
Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said that too much emphasis is placed on the results. But she recognizes that it’s a “great place for candidates to meet Iowans” and that it has been a good fundraiser for the party.
She said the party has to be realistic about what it means, “a fun picnic and a good way for the candidates to mix with the public.”
Again, we agree. But casting yourself in the spotlight, like the Iowa GOP does with the Straw Poll, is inevitably going to stoke media speculation, and pundits from news channels to Internet bloggers eager to grasp anything they can will continue to make a much bigger deal out of the poll than Iowans know it to be. That’s out of the party’s hands unless it eliminates the event altogether.
We hope that doesn’t happen.
It does bring positive emphasis on Iowa, gives Iowans another great opportunity to meet candidates close-up (as does the caucus process) and brings a nice cash infusion into the state.
We say keep the Straw Poll and let the chips fall where they may. National pundits can say what they want and no one’s going to stop them. We trust Iowans to make grasp reality out of what happens, and that ability will continue to make Iowa a key state in the presidential process.