Jumping the Gun

Hate to be the first to tell you, but 2016 speculation has already begun, and worse yet, I’m not talking about candidates but about process.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has just called for abolition of the event that more or less formally kicks off the entire presidential circus, the State GOP Straw Poll in Ames, typically held in the summer before the actual nominating contest. He was immediately and angrily rebuked by Iowa GOP chair A.J. Spiker (not a Branstad appointee, but part of the post-Caucus Ron Paul coup that took control of the state party mechanism and most of the Iowa convention delegation):

“I believe the Iowa Straw Poll is possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize (put in place county and precinct leaders & activate them) for Iowa’s First in the Nation Caucus,” Spiker said in a statement on the Iowa GOP website. “I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames and I disagree with Governor Branstad about ending our Iowa Straw Poll.”

The Straw Poll’s usefulness to Iowa Republicans has been all about money–directly, because tickets bought by presidential campaigns constitute the major source of party funds in presidential election years, and indirectly, because the event encourages candidates to “play early” in Iowa, spending their dollars.

But the Straw Poll’s value as a predictor of who will win the Iowa Caucuses is at best limited: Mitt Romney won in 2007 and Michele Bachmann in 2011. The main impact of the event in the latest cycle was to croak the one candidacy that might have eventually given Mitt Romney a run for his money as a viable-and-electable-conservative-alternative: that of Tim Pawlenty.

Truth is the decision on Straw Poll won’t be made until the runup to the next presidential cycle, when Branstad and Spicer may not be in their current positions. But the debate shows that presidential election season never really ends in Iowa.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.