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Iowa GOP Cancels August Straw Poll

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It was the last straw for the straw poll.

A decades-old Iowa tradition came to an end as the Iowa Republican Party voted to end the straw poll in a conference call Friday morning.

“I’ve said since December that we would only hold a straw poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year that is just not the case. For that reason I called a special meeting to update the State Central Committee, which then voted unanimously this morning to cancel the event,” party chair Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement.

Presidential contenders, including Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum, have said they won’t spend money to compete in the event, which traditionally occurs at the end of the summer and is meant to raise money for the state party and begin to winnow down the presidential field.

The poll has been under scrutiny for its poor job of reflecting the actual presidential preferences of the party.

Iowa’s first straw poll took place in 1979 in Ames, Iowa. Either the first or second place winner has always gone on to win the Iowa caucus, with the exception of fourth-place finisher Rick Santorum in 2011. Michele Bachmann won that year, but her support in the state dropped dramatically almost immediately afterward.

By 2011, the poll had grown to become somewhat of a spectacle, with candidates paying for attendees’ tickets, musical acts, T-shirts, barbecue, and even air-conditioned tents.

“Some folks say the Iowa Straw Poll is like the Iowa State Fair — but better because politics is involved,” its website boasted.

The poll invoked criticism that it winnowed poor-performing candidates from the field too early, including the fledgling campaigns of Sam Brownback in 2007 and Tim Pawlenty in 2011. This year, the poll struggled to get commitments from any presidential candidates.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham made no secret of his opposition to the straw poll.

“I was the first person to say I wouldn’t go,” Graham reporters Friday. He added that it was clear candidates weren’t willing to spend money on it.

“Iowa’s going to be ground zero,” Graham added. “What I worry about is this nationalization of the debates.”

“You reward big states, you reward people that have run before and celebrity,” Graham said. “That’s not the way I think to pick the primary winner in the Republican party.”

“I would never advise a candidate I was working for to participate,” an Iowa Republican strategist said, citing the enormous financial obligation and skewed outcome of years past.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, admitted in 2012 that the straw poll had “outlived its usefulness.” “It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

“I’m a rural guy. I’m a history teacher. I like traditions. The candidates chose to not go with this tradition,” Kaufmann told Radio Iowa and Des Moines Register reporters. “So now we’re going to make the most important tradition, which is our Caucus, we’re going to make it the absolute best Caucus that we’ve ever had.”
CNN’s Alexandra Jaffe and Sara Murray contributed to this report.