Iowa GOP chooses Boone site for revamped straw poll

The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee voted this morning to hold this year's presidential candidate "straw poll" at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on August 8. Three other sites were considered: the Iowa State Center in Ames, the Iowa Speedway in Newton, and Drake University in Des Moines. I figured Ames would be rejected to draw a clear line between the much-maligned "Ames Straw Poll" and the future. I figured Drake was out because it is the new home of the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. The Newton Speedway is relatively accessible from all corners of the state, but Newton lies east of Des Moines area--the "wrong" direction from the perspective of the GOP base. Boone is more geographically central for the Republican activist community. The fact that Governor Terry Branstad used to live in Boone probably didn't hurt either.

In a press release I've enclosed below, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann said the Boone location will help "showcase" Iowa's agricultural heritage and "keep ticket prices affordable." Speaking to reporters this morning, Kaufmann said

"Now comes the brass tacks. Now comes the actual details of how the voting will occur," Kaufmann said. "How are we going to go about being fair to the candidates who decide to participate? How much we're going to be aggressive toward sponsors all the way to exactly what is it that we are going to have to charge in order to be fair to the Iowa Republicans that want to attend, but at the same time making sure that our bottom line is guarded."

I expect this summer's event will much resemble previous straw polls, perhaps with less of a "winnowing" effect. Poor showings at the 2008 and 2012 straw polls prompted Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to make early exits from the presidential race.

UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Kathie Obradovich's commentary.

Iowa GOP press release, March 12:

DES MOINES - The Republican Party of Iowa will host its 2015 Straw Poll at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone, IA., on August 8th.

The decision was made this morning during a conference call meeting of the State Central Committee. The final vote was unanimous, with voting members including: Steve Scheffler, Chelle Adkins, David Chung, Ron Herrig, Loras Schulte, Bob Anderson, Trudy Caviness, Judy Davidson, Jarad Klein, Brenna Bird, Ryan Frederick, Bill Gustoff, Sherill Whisenand, Gabe Haugland, Jamie Johnson, Gary Nystrom, and Craig Williams.

"Iowa's agricultural background has always captured the national imagination, and we feel the Central Iowa Expo will help us showcase this heritage," Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said. "This venue also allows us to keep ticket prices affordable, ensuring families from across Iowa can participate in this one-of-a-kind event."

The Central Iowa Expo offers:

A central location, only 30 minutes from the Des Moines suburbs and no more than 3 hours from the farthest points of the state.

Ample and close parking, providing a convenient experience for attendees.

An iconic setting well-known throughout Iowa and the Midwest for it's connection to agriculture. The bucolic surroundings evoke Iowa's unique history, with a railroad flanking one section and corn and soybean fields surrounding the others.

Competitive pricing, which helps keep ticket prices affordable for attendees and candidates.

The necessary infrastructure to hold a large and nationally important event.

Governor Branstad said that Central Iowa Expo's price will help maintain the event's strong attendance.

"As a former resident of Boone, I couldn't be happier with the Central Committee's selection. Making this event more accessible to every Iowan is an important step in keeping the straw poll a must-attend date on the presidential election calendar," Governor Branstad said. "Boone is a wonderful town and will make a fantastic host for the 2015 Straw Poll."

Iowa GOP Co-Chair Cody Hoefert said the Iowa Straw Poll is a unique opportunity for Iowans and presidential candidates.

"The Iowa straw poll is a tradition stretching back decades, with past winners including George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney," Co-Chair Hoefert said. "It's a family-friendly event that allows Iowans to meet the men and women running to be the next president of the United States. For potential candidates, it's an unparalleled opportunity to meet thousands of caucus goers in one day."

Remaining details of the event will be announced in the coming weeks and months.

UPDATE: I agree entirely with Kathie Obradovich's column called, "Boone straw poll to reveal Iowa's secret."

[Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann] says it's primarily about highlighting a vision of Iowa. "That vision is to give a slice of Iowa, to show our rural heritage," Kaufmann said. "We want people to go there and realize that they've been in Iowa."

He added he wants people from New Jersey to walk away from this event saying, "Yes, Iowa is an agricultural state, they grow corn and that is a very, very important part."

Good point. The rest of the country has been frustratingly slow to pick up on the fact that this is a farm state. Clues like inviting presidential candidates to the Iowa State Fairgrounds for a daylong ag summit have been far too subtle. It apparently hasn't sunk in, even though anyone asked to describe Iowa's 2014 Senate race in two words would have to say "hog castration." [...]

Iowans are justifiably proud of their rural heritage and there is no need to downplay it. We couldn't if we tried. Anyone who drives through the state or even looks at a satellite map will notice it. But I suspect extra emphasis on farm life has more to do with continuing to pressure candidates on issues like the renewable fuel standard and the wind production tax credit. While both are valid issues to raise during the campaign, Iowa GOP leaders can't afford to be too heavy-handed.

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