R.I.P. Iowa Straw Poll

The only thing about this news that comes as a big surprise is its early timing: the Iowa GOP Straw Poll is officially dead after 36 years. And this isn’t just a judgment or a rumor, it’s official (per Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register):

The governing board for the Republican Party of Iowa voted unanimously Friday to cancel the straw poll, a milestone on the path to the White House that had passed the strategic tipping point. It was no longer a political risk for presidential campaigns to walk away from the straw poll, and too many of the 2016 contenders had opted to skip it for it to survive.

“We set the table and they didn’t come to dinner,” Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told The Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa Friday morning.

Why now? Apparently nothing was going to give.

In the last few weeks, at least 10 people with Iowa influence had launched a “full-court press” to persuade the presidential contenders to sign up for the straw poll. Branstad was among them and it wasn’t just “a wink and a nod” — the governor was truly advocating for the straw poll, Kaufmann said.

“But there is a point when advocacy becomes pushy or even bullying and that does not bode well for our first-in-the-nation status,” Kaufmann said.

The reference to Branstad is designed to protect him from conservative muttering–conservative activists in Iowa loved the Straw Poll the way football fans in Alabama love the Iron Bowl–that the old man did in the event after attacking it right after the 2012 elections.

You could make arguments, however, that Fox News did in the Straw Poll by making it a distraction from the national campaigning necessary to qualify for the first debate, or that Erick Erickson did it in by counter-scheduling a presidential cattle call for the same weekend, or that Jeb Bush did it in by announcing he wouldn’t be there practically before anybody had time to ask. The point is there were a lot of knives out for this event, and not enough determination among Iowa Republicans to blackmail candidates into participating or else.

I’m personally a little bummed since this means I won’t get to attend one of these bizarre circus-like events (I was trying to make it to Boone this year), but I’m sure the Republican field and the GOP will serve up some alternatives.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I feel a bit like the dog in the Richard Pryor routine who learned from its weeping owner that his pet monkey had died. “The monkey’s dead? Oh no!” said the dog sympathetically. “And I was going to eat him!”

UDPATE II: That sigh of relief you heard was from Scott Walker, who is no longer under pressure to keep the Straw Poll alive by committing to attend it. That’s assuming Iowans are not about to put the word out that Walker’s reluctance did kill it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.