The sudden decision by Iowa Republicans on Friday to scrap the "straw poll" on presidential favorites scheduled for August has spurred spirited discussion throughout the Hawkeye State over who killed the poll after 36 years.
Most of the pundits and Republican pols who spoke to Newsmax over the weekend concluded that the 2016 GOP candidates who either declined to participate or refused to commit this year were most responsible for the demise of the survey that was key to launching the presidential prospects of both George Bushes and Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee placed an unexpected second in the August 2007 straw poll and went on to win the Iowa caucuses in January 2008. He stunned supporters and opponents alike on May 21 when he announced that he would not participate in the straw poll this time around.
The former Arkansas governor's announcement came five days after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made a similar "I’m not playing" announcement about the poll, in which anyone who pays a small fee to the state party can vote for a presidential favorite.
But the biggest surprise came from the candidate whom most polls show to be the front-runner among Iowa Republicans: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose earliest years were spent in Plainfield, Iowa, but who refused to commit to participating in the poll, which had been scheduled for Aug. 8 in Boone.
"I can only speculate that without a firm commitment from Gov. Walker to participate, there would be a paucity of top-tier candidates," Des Moines attorney Ralph Brown, a state leader in George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, told Newsmax. "And with low participation, the party might not even break even financially."
GOP sources in Iowa told Newsmax that the state party under Chairman Jeff Kaufmann had laid out an estimated $250,000 to fund the poll.
"It had become hurtful to our caucuses in January and a means of extorting money by the state party," former U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske of Iowa, who was Newt Gingrich's state campaign chairman in 2012, told us. "Several of the major candidates for '16 just decided they were not going to spend their resources on this cattle call."
Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich agreed, but added that "there are a lot of other factors and it is really hard to lay the blame on one particular person."
Obradovich recalled how Ron Paul, who focused on winning the 2011 straw poll and came in second, did well enough in the caucuses in 2012 to go on to take over many county conventions and elect enough state committee members to seize power within the party.
"This was threatening to the 'establishment Republicans,'" she said, noting that when former four-term GOP Gov. Terry Branstad returned to the governorship in 2011, he and his supporters "drove out [Paul's] libertarians and took back the party organization."
Branstad has long advocated scrapping the straw poll in 2016, telling reporters earlier this year that the poll had "outlived its usefulness."
Obradovich pointed to the narrow win over Paul at the 2011 straw poll by then-Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. The congresswoman went on to place fifth in the Iowa caucuses and withdrew from the presidential race the following day.
"Her showing was responsible for doing away with the mythology that a winning straw poll was a steppingstone to a strong performance in the caucus," Obradovich said.
She also noted that another casualty of the 2011 straw poll was Tim Pawlenty. The former governor of Minnesota, Obradovich said, "made winning the straw poll a big part of his strategy, and after placing third, quickly withdrew from the race. Had he just stayed in the race, put his campaign on life support, and participated in televised debates, Gov. Pawlenty might have had another chance at becoming a top contender.
"He probably regrets that decision."
Reached by Newsmax, Pawlenty said: "I dropped out because we were out of money and in danger of going into debt with no clear sense of how we could pay the debt back. That inflection point happened to coincide with the straw poll."
About the decision to scrap the straw poll, Pawlenty told us: "Good riddance! It way outlived its usefulness and was not a good predictor of anything, including who would win the Iowa caucuses."
But it was Huckabee's decision not to "play to pay," Obradovich told us, and Walker's refusal to commit to the straw poll that were "the last nails in the coffin," culminating in the GOP state committee's vote on Friday morning to scrap it.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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