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Iowa Politics Roundup: Iowa Straw Poll Gets a Boost with Fox News Debate PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 17 December 2010 11:01

Iowa Republicans hope that a nationally broadcast GOP presidential debate they’ve scheduled for August 11, 2011, in Ames will up the stakes for the Iowa Straw Poll two days later.

“We wanted to make sure it’s bigger and better and more prominent than it’s ever been before,” Republican Party of Iowa chair Matt Strawn said Thursday in a conference call with reporters, less than an hour after announcing the two events.

The Iowa Straw Poll has historically been considered the critical first test of grassroots support for Republican presidential candidates in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

However, the future of the Ames Republican straw poll was cast into doubt in June 2007 after former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain decided to skip the key event leading up to the caucus.

That’s something the Iowa GOP hopes to avoid this time around.

“The opportunity to address not only Iowa-caucus and -straw-poll participants but the nation from Ames would be something very difficult for a candidate to pass up,” Strawn said.

The debate will be held on a Thursday at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University, the traditional location of the straw poll. The event will be broadcast on Fox News.

Strawn said Thursday that no invitations to the debate have been extended to potential candidates at this point, and specific details will be worked out between the Republican Party of Iowa and Fox News as the date gets closer.

However, he discouraged candidates from participating in one event but not the other.

“A candidate would have to think long and hard how that would look in the eyes of an Iowa-caucus-going Republican,” Strawn said. “It would be a very risky decision in my opinion to do that.”

Strawn called the straw poll a good tool for presidential candidates to test their strength and for Iowans to organize.

“Presidential candidates cannot underestimate the importance of a good showing in Iowa,” Strawn said. “This is the first true test of support in the presidential nominating cycle. Candidates come face-to-face with tens of thousands of Iowans at the straw poll, and will reach every corner of our state and a national audience in our presidential debate. Candidates who perform well here will enjoy a national boost in support.”

Strawn said there was “a lot of appetite” for the party to play a larger role in the event, so leaders have made that a priority over the past few months. He said talk about whether to stage a debate in conjunction with the straw poll started internally before the November election.

Collins Officially Announces Bid for RNC Chair

Former Republican Party of Iowa Executive Director Gentry Collins has officially announced that he is running to be chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Collins, 35, made the announcement on Facebook. “I am honored to have received support from people all across this country,” he wrote. “I look forward to continuing my travels and meeting with members of the RNC. Stay tuned for more details.”

In a letter of candidacy to RNC members, Collins said the most successful RNC chairs have come from the ranks of operatives who have spent their careers learning to win races in tough cycles in swing states.

Collins’ announcement came the same evening that RNC Chair Michael Steele announced in a conference call with Republican National Committee members that he will be running for re-election when his term is up in January.

“Gentry Collins has an opportunity because he’s from a younger generation and he is very familiar with the other states and has worked with the other RNC members,” said Kim Lehman, Iowa’s RNC member, on Thursday in an interview with “Not being a member himself, that does put him at somewhat of a disadvantage. But he’s made a good reputation, a good name for himself.”

Collins most recently worked as RNC political director before writing a scathing five-page resignation letter last month blasting Steele for his management and leadership. Collins’ status as a former RNC employee distances him from Steele, yet gives him the national experience necessary for a chairperson.

“He was able to showcase his talent and meet one-on-one, being the political director, with other state members who really needed his assistance when they were working within their states,” Lehman said.

Collins is now one of six candidates for RNC chair along with Steele, former Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis, former Missouri Republican Party Chair Ann Wagner, Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus, and Maria Cino, a veteran of the Bush administration.

Culver Won’t Choose Three Supreme Court Justices

Governor Chet Culver will not be afforded the opportunity to appoint three justices to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The State Judicial Nominating Commission announced Monday that applications for vacancies would be accepted starting that day. The deadline for submission is January 14, the day of Terry Branstad’s inauguration as governor.

Culver had said he would appoint nominees selected by the commission if the slate was completed by January 14, but the announced timeline eliminates that opportunity. Nominees are appointed by the sitting governor.

Commission member and Cedar Rapids attorney Steve Pace said that although he did not know specific people applying for vacancies, “I know that 25 application packets were requested [on Monday]. We hope to get some good applicants, and the commission looks forward to the interviews.”

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker were ousted from office November 2 by public vote. Their terms expire December 31. The trio was part of a unanimous ruling in April 2009 that state law violated equal-protection rights of homosexuals who wished to legally marry someone of the same sex.

Iowa Democrats said this week they are not disappointed that Culver will not appoint the justices as one of his last acts in office, adding that the nomination-selection process itself is a nonpartisan issue.

The commission plans to meet the week of January 24, after which the 15-member board hopes to have a slate of nominees to present to Branstad, according to the state Judicial Branch. Applicant interviews will available for public viewing on the Internet.