June 16, 2015 — We witnessed a great many political “noes” this weekend, as Iowa Republicans voted to do away with their famous August straw poll event, and two potential major Senate candidates announced they would not run next year.
The Iowa Republican Party began the straw poll event in August of 1979, as a way to showcase their first-in-the nation caucus contest. Over the years, the event attracted major media attention and was generally viewed as the first official contest of the respective presidential campaign cycle. In the most recent years, it became the Iowa GOP’s top fundraising event for their entire election season. But, over this past weekend, the Iowa Republican Party Executive Committee voted 17-0 to end the famous informal poll.
Several reasons exist for the event’s elimination, which previously drew thousands to Iowa State University in Ames, the traditional event venue. First, the straw poll was never a good predictor as to who would win the Caucus event. For example, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) placed first in the 2011 straw poll, which proved to be the high point of her campaign. Basically she was not heard from in a serious way after that. In fact, of the six straw poll events, only once did the outright August vote correctly foretell the actual Caucus winner (George W. Bush in 2000).
Secondly, over the years the candidates’ straw poll entry fees, including booth space on the event grounds, began to seriously escalate. Many campaign directors in the 2011 straw poll were questioning whether participating was worth the significant financial investment.
The final blow was the large number of current cycle Republican candidates already announcing that they would not compete in the Iowa Straw Poll, beginning with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Without the top candidates participating, the Iowa event would lose its media attention and the huge financial windfall that the state party typically received. Hence, the Iowa GOP Executive Committee members decided to lower the final curtain on what, at one time, was treated as an important Republican presidential campaign staple.
The Democratic challenge against Sen. Mark Kirk (R) became better defined this weekend, as Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL-2) publicly confirmed that she will not become a statewide candidate. Already in the Democratic primary are Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) and Chicago Urban League president and elected school board member Andrea Zopp.
Rep. Duckworth is the clear favorite, but if there is an upset Democratic primary scenario, it is the one that is unfolding. A strong African-American candidate coming from Chicago who can unite the black vote in a two-person race has before proven a winning formula. Had Rep. Kelly entered, a Duckworth victory was all but assured, since the Chicago and African-American vote would have been split, thus allowing the congresswoman to win with even a small plurality.
If Zopp can become a force and raise sufficient money to compete with Rep. Duckworth on a statewide basis, this campaign could turn quite interesting.
In a development that is not particularly surprising, former Senator and Gov. Evan Bayh (D) announced that he would not enter the open US Senate race to regain his former position. Bayh was twice elected to the Senate, deciding to retire in 2010, leaving with a rather bitter statement about the federal political system’s state of disrepair.
The former genator also served two terms as governor of Indiana, and most observers believed that, if he ran for any office in 2016, it would be for the state’s top executive job. Now, it becomes evident that he will not be on the ballot next year.
The lone announced Senate Democrat is former Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN-9). Republicans feature Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3) and former state GOP Party chairman and senatorial aide Eric Holcomb. Sen. Dan Coats (R) is retiring.