The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee voted unanimously today to hold a "straw poll" fundraiser next August, as has occurred every year before the Iowa caucuses since 1979. The date and location will be announced later; the three most likely venues are the Iowa State University campus in Ames, the Farm Progress Show in Boone, and the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
I've enclosed the official Iowa GOP statement after the jump. Note that it identifies former Republican presidential nominees George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney as past winners of the straw poll, but does not mention Michele Bachmann, who won the 2011 straw poll and went on to finish fifth on caucus night. O. Kay Henderson posted the audio from the committee deliberations and vote. State party chair Jeff Kaufmann emphasized that Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is strongly supportive of Iowa's first in the nation status, and said the straw poll will not jeopardize that role.
Shortly after the 2012 presidential election, Governor Terry Branstad declared that "the straw poll has outlived its usefulness." That's easy for him to say when he is able to raise millions of dollars through other events. There's no way the Iowa GOP would fail to hold some kind of statewide fundraiser featuring as many presidential candidates as possible. Continuing the straw poll element will increase the national media's interest in the event.
Speaking to State Central Committee members after today's vote, Kaufmann thanked Branstad, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Representative Steve King for their feedback on the straw poll. He added that Branstad had offered to help the party secure presidential candidates' participation if the straw poll continues. Some analysts have speculated that certain candidates would skip the fundraiser, either because the event is seen to skew toward social conservative activists, or simply to save money. (Texas Governor Rick Perry joined the presidential race shortly after the Ames straw poll.) Kaufmann said today that if some candidates decide not to participate, "I can guarantee that RPI will maintain its strict neutrality policy whether or not that candidate attended the Straw Poll or not."
During today's meeting, several State Central Committee members praised the straw poll's role in giving every presidential candidate, not just well-funded ones, an opportunity to address activists from all over Iowa. A few also favorably cited the straw poll's function in "winnowing the field." Sam Brownback ended his presidential campaign soon after the 2007 straw poll, and Tim Pawlenty did the same soon after finishing a distant third at the 2011 event. I suspect that this year, presidential candidates will not invest as much money in winning the straw poll, nor will they over-react to a less than stellar showing. Bachmann started fading almost immediately after winning the 2011 straw poll. By the time the Iowa caucuses rolled around, Republicans had cycled through three more front-runners (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich), before Rick Santorum surged to finish in a near-tie with Romney and Ron Paul. According to some reports, Pawlenty regretted dropping out of that race so early.
Any comments about the next Republican presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.