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Iowa governor says Ames Straw Poll should end, blames Bachmann's win

Will the death of the Ames Straw Poll be the legacy of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign? If Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has his way, yes.

Branstad told the Wall Street Journal that the straw poll, a non-binding presidential preference contest held during a quirky, high-profile party fundraiser at the Iowa State Fair, should end after Bachmann won the event in 2011, only to finish in 6th place place during the Iowa caucuses in January.

From the WSJ:

In an interview, Gov. Branstad pointed to Ms. Bachmann’s rapid rise and fall in 2011 as Exhibit A for why the straw poll no longer makes sense. The Bachmann campaign invested heavily in the one-day event, busing in thousands of supporters from around Iowa and hiring singers like Randy Travis to entertain them in a huge tent.

The Minnesota Republican beat libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas by 150 votes, but never caught fire in Iowa. She came in a very distant sixth in the January Iowa caucuses, getting just 5% of the vote.

“You saw what happened the last time,” Gov. Branstad said. “I don’t think candidates will spend the time or money to participate in a straw poll if they don’t see any real benefit coming out of it.”

The Journal notes that 2011 wasn't an aberration. Only two straw poll victors since 1979 have gone on to win the Republican presidential nomination, and only one, George W. Bush, would win the general election.

Winning the straw poll was easily the highlight of Bachmann's presidential campaign. The same day, Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race and effectively took over the Tea Party mantel Bachmann had worked hard to secure. She was polling at her highest levels during the days leading up to the straw poll, but saw her support steadily erode afterward.

Beyond crowning Bachmann, however temporarily, the only lasting impact of the 2011 straw poll was the end of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign — Pawlenty campaigned hard to make a splash in the straw poll, but finished a distant third. He dropped out of the race the next day, and campaign advisers soon blamed their straw poll strategy.

Branstad's plan to end the straw poll has some roadblocks, namely the Iowa Republican Party. A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the state GOP, told the Journal: “Gov. Branstad is wrong, and this is not a decision he will make anyway. ... It is a decision the party and the candidates will make.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com

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