The Republican Party of Iowa and Fox News will co-sponsor a presidential debate on August 11, 2011, two days before the party’s “straw poll” in Ames. Journalists closely watch the straw poll as a test of Republican candidates’ organizational strength in Iowa.
Tying the party fundraiser in Ames with the debate on Fox, an influential outlet for conservatives, will give incentive to candidates campaigning for Iowa’s leadoff nominating caucuses to participate in the straw poll, state party Chairman Matt Strawn said.
“I think the opportunity to address not just Iowa caucusgoers and straw poll attendees but to address the nation in a debate from Ames would be something that would be very difficult for a candidate to pass up,” Strawn said.
I am trying to think of another example of a news organization scheduling a debate with the express goal of helping promote a political party’s fundraiser. But then, Fox isn’t your typical news organization. Its parent company donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association earlier this year. Why not have the Fox News subsidiary lend a helping hand to the Iowa GOP?
Understandably, Iowa Republicans worry that some presidential candidates might take the John McCain/Rudy Giuliani strategy: skip the straw poll and generally avoid campaigning in Iowa. That hurts the state party organization, which relies on the straw poll as a major fundraiser, and Republican legislators, who often receive campaign contributions from presidential candidates’ PACs.
Bob Vander Plaats, the Iowa chair of Mike Huckabee’s last presidential campaign, recently said he would advise Huckabee to wait until after the straw poll to decide whether to run for president. Huckabee’s strong second-place finish in the 2007 straw poll demonstrated that he was a force to be reckoned with in Iowa. Before that event, Mitt Romney was the heavy favorite to win the caucuses. But the straw poll success cost Huckabee’s campaign and Americans for Fair Taxation approximately $150,000 each. That’s a lot of money to spend to win a news cycle.
Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Thomas Beaumont, Giuliani’s former campaign manager Mike Duhaime predicted that some candidates would participate in the Fox News debate but not the straw poll, because of how costly it is to compete seriously in the straw poll. Strawn said Fox News and the Iowa GOP haven’t determined yet whether candidates would be barred from the debate if they didn’t plan to participate in the straw poll.
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