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Some background on the Iowa Straw Poll

As the Iowa Straw Poll approaches there is great interest among supporters of Congressman Ron Paul of Texas regarding the fairness of the event. This is understandable given that Diebold voting machines of questionable, to put it kindly, reliability will be used. Additionally, many are upset with the media’s coverage, or lack thereof, of Dr. Paul’s campaign. The nationally distributed story written by Mike Glover, chief political writer for the Des Moines bureau of the Associated Press covering the ABC News debate of Sunday, August 5 which erroneously stated, “(T)he rivals made it very clear there would be no fundamental shift in policy in Iraq should they win the White House”, when anyone who heard Dr. Paul’s position knew this to be untrue is a glaring example of the treatment that Paul’s supporters are upset with.

So let’s take a look at what the Iowa Straw Poll actually is to get some perspective on the event.

The Iowa Straw Poll, or more correctly, the Ames Straw Poll, is a fund raising event to benefit Iowa Republican Party. It is the most prominent of a number of straw polls held in the state prior to the Iowa Caucuses and it draws people from all over the state which has resulted in it commonly being referred to as the Iowa Straw Poll. It began in 1979 and is only held in years when there is not an incumbent Republican running for president. Participants must be residents of Iowa but party affiliation is irrelevant. Prior to 1999 candidates would bus in supporters from other states to participate but now proof of Iowa residency is required.

Candidates are allowed to make a short speech to the crowd before voting begins.

Participants have their hand stamped with ink after they vote and in early years fraud was widespread as people would use rest rooms to wash their hands and return to vote multiple times. Now a more wash resistant type of ink is used. Due to a lack of sufficient voting machines in the past many people would leave without voting but this year more machines than ever will be used as the largest crowd to date is expected.

The event clearly favors wealthy candidates as they will pay for the tickets ($35 this year) and transportation of people who promise to support them. The fact that some people will take a free ticket from one candidate then vote for another is a topic of controversy.

While the event has no direct connection to the Iowa Caucuses, it is viewed as important as an early indicator of the strength of various candidates. Additionally, the media coverage that it receives can give a boost to a lesser known candidate. One reason that some candidates decide not to participate is the fact that a bad showing can adversely affect the public’s perception of them and have a negative effect on their fundraising ability and campaign as a whole. However, only once in the history of the Ames Straw Poll has the winner gone on to occupy the White House. That was George W. Bush who won the 1999 straw poll.

Hopefully this will give people a clearer perspective on the significance of the event scheduled for Saturday.

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