Government

Former Iowa GOP chair downplays concerns with straw poll

Former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn is confident he didn't preside over the last Iowa Straw Poll

Matt Strawn, former GOP state chair
Matt Strawn, former GOP state chair

JOHNSTON — Former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn is confident he didn’t preside over the last Iowa Straw Poll.

There’s been speculation the Iowa GOP might pull the plug on the straw poll because of a lack of interest from candidates seeking the 2016 presidential nomination. An informational meeting Thursday drew representatives of just seven campaigns and, so far, only two candidates have committed to participating in the Aug. 8 gathering in Boone.

Four years ago, when he was party chairman, Strawn said there were no commitments at this point.

“I wouldn’t make alternative plans for Aug. 8 just yet,” Strawn said Friday during a taping of “Iowa Press.” “I suspect we’re going to have a straw poll. I suspect we’re going to have a number of candidates.”

Strawn, who led the Iowa GOP from 2009 to 2012, doesn’t know how many of the candidates in the GOP field, which is expected to exceed 15, will participate. However, Strawn speculated that the size of the field and new eligibility guidelines for debates may make the straw poll more attractive.

Longtime Democratic activist and Hillary Clinton supporter Jerry Crawford argued that the debates will be more important than the straw poll.

“You can’t hide from your positions as easily in a debate as you can in a straw poll or in a pre-debate context,” Crawford said.

“We might check with Michele Bachmann about the importance of the straw poll,” Crawford added, referring to the Minnesota congresswoman who won the 2011 straw poll but finished sixth in the precinct caucuses.

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However, Strawn said that when the field is as bunched as the GOP field, “it presents a great opportunity for a breakout moment.” He referred to a national Quinnipiac University Poll that found five Republicans each had 10 percent support and the others were in single digits.

“When you have four or five candidates that are really going after perhaps the evangelical vote, three or four candidates that are going after the economic conservative vote, it’s going to be that personal interaction because there is not going to be a lot of differentiation on the policies,” Strawn said.

Strawn downplayed the significance of Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee opting out of the straw poll and only Ben Carson and Donald Trump committing to participating.

There’s a “risk-reward calculus” going on, especially for candidates who could turn a good showing in the straw poll into a launching pad “as ironically Mike Huckabee was able to do in 2007 when he knocked out Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo to become the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.”

Crawford said Clinton, who is being criticized for her lack of interaction with voters in favor of staged events with invited guests, is eager to meet voters.

Supporters, he said, like her campaign, “like the fact that it’s not the major rallies behind the podium, it’s far more interactive, it’s far more intimate, it’s more real, and I think they see the benefit.”

Iowa Press can be seen at noon Sunday on Iowa Public Television, 8:30 a.m. Saturday on IPTV World and online at www.iptv.org.

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