Previously said Ames gathering ‘outlived its usefulness’
Republican Presidential candidates (from left) Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann at the Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)
DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad says he would support a statewide Republican fundraising event in Ames next summer where GOP presidential hopefuls are invited to speak as long as no vote is taken as had been the practice during past straw polls that have been the focus of controversy.
Branstad added that he did not want to see Iowa face possible sanctions that could cost delegates to the 2016 Republican national convention for conducting a poll in advance of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses that could run afoul of new party rules.
“I’m willing to agree to a statewide meeting that would give all of the candidates that came in a chance to speak and have tents and have similar things, but just not have a vote,” said the GOP governor who recently won election to serve a record sixth, four-year term when he is inaugurated next month.
Branstad has previously stated that the Iowa GOP straw poll, first held in 1979, “has outlived its usefulness” and he had suggested replacing it with a series of regional fundraisers. The governor now says he would be agreeable to have a “big event” in Ames where GOP presidential candidates could address Iowans, organizations, entertain and get national attention but not have the party conduct an official vote.
Iowa Republicans’ straw poll in the August preceding the state’s kickoff presidential precinct caucuses has become a two-edged sword by drawing competing candidates, party activists and widespread media coverage along with criticism that the event is a meaningless, moneymaking gimmick that doesn’t accurately measure the sentiments of rank-and-file party members, prompting some top contenders to skip it.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., won the last straw poll held in August 2011 before fading as a presidential contender. Past lackluster showings torpedoed the candidates of Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander in 1999, Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson in 2007 and Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty in 2011.
“What I don’t want to do is have a lot of people mad and say we won’t participate in Iowa. I want to instead make them feel that they’re all welcome and it’s going to be fair,” Branstad said.
To that end, the Iowa governor said he probably will join top leadership and staff of the Republican Party of Iowa who have pledged to remain neutral in the caucus process in early 2016 that kicks off the presidential nominating process.
“I think it’s more likely that I will remain neutral and try to be a good host and encourage candidates to come and visit,” Branstad said. “My advice to the candidates is pretty straight forward: come to Iowa often, go to all 99 counties, meet with a lot of people, spend a lot of money here — it’s good for you and it’s good for the Iowa economy here.”