Branstad seeks to end Iowa GOP straw poll

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing to end the state's Republican straw poll, but the state party chairman says the event may still go on next year.

Branstad said Monday that the poll — traditionally held in Ames the summer before a contested presidential caucus — is a turnoff for many candidates and could diminish the power of the state's caucuses.

"I believe that a number of candidates have chosen not to participate because they don't think it's necessarily representative," Branstad said. "The most important thing is to keep the Iowa precinct caucuses first in the nation and the first real test of strength of candidates."

But State Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he thinks there's interest in continuing the tradition, provided it's permissible under Republican National Committee rules.

First held in 1979, the Iowa straw poll has grown from a county GOP fundraiser stop to a large event on the Iowa State University campus, where candidates spend heavily to entertain and bus in supporters. The poll, which draws a small percentage of would-be caucus attendees, is one early test of campaign organization.

The Republican Party of Iowa runs the poll. Kaufmann said the State Central Committee, which governs the party, will meet next month and he expects a vote on whether to hold a straw poll.

Kaufmann has sought a written opinion from the RNC in response to concerns that Iowa could jeopardize early voting status by holding a voting event before the caucuses.

"If we did not have this RNC issue, I have a strong hunch that the current State Central Committee is in favor of a straw poll," Kaufmann said.

The RNC is reviewing the issue, spokesman Michael Short said in a statement.

In 2011, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll and eventual GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose not to participate. About 17,000 turned out for that poll, far less than the roughly 120,000 who voted in the January 2012 caucus.

"My view is that the straw poll had its time and its purpose, but again it really doesn't provide a cross sample of primary voters in Iowa," said GOP strategist Phil Musser. "I suspect many candidates in 2016 will make the choice Romney made in 2012."

Musser served as an adviser to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the 2012 race after a third-place finish in the poll.

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