Alternative straw polls boost candidates outside of Iowa


Max Goldberg

Sen. Rand Paul signs autographs at a meet up outside Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. 

Thomas Nelson

It’s been several months since the Republican Party of Iowa decided to pull the plug on the long-lived Iowa Straw Poll, but candidates are finding alternative straw polls as a way to boost their campaigns.

On Sept. 20, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the Mackinac Island straw poll in Michigan. Mitt Romney won this straw poll in 2012 and John McCain came a close second in 2008.

Some political pundits and observers say Mackinac may be “the new” Iowa Straw Poll, and even as Paul see’s a slump in polling, this may be the type of boost he needs.

“Fifty to 60 percent of people are remaining undecided so far,” said Sergio Gor, communications director for Paul.

The Mackinac Island straw poll is a relatively new entry in the constellation of straw polls, said Mack Shelley, professor of political science at Iowa State.

August 2011 was the last time a straw poll was held on the Iowa State campus. The previous Ames straw poll was won by Michele Bachmann, former member of the House of Representatives, by a narrow margin.

Along with boosting the local economy here in Ames, it also helped define candidates and stopped some in their tracks, like Tim Pawlenty, the former Governor of Minnesota who dropped out after the event, Shelley said.

With Iowa’s Straw Poll gone, candidates continue to look around the country for alternatives.

For example, Ben Carson won a Washington D.C. straw poll in late July by a huge margin. The former neurosurgeon is now second in most national polling done after the second republican debate.

Paul, on the other hand, is holding in the race as several of the candidates, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have dropped out.

“This is the biggest straw poll in America right now,” said Chip Englander, campaign manager for Paul. “Students will be the difference.”

Paul is drawing huge support from students, according to a campaign release. Right now there are more than 300 chapters of Students for Rand across the country, Gor said.

“Iowa is chalk-full of students,” Englander said.

But even with the excitement there is a long way to go until the Iowa Caucus.

“There are a lot of party events like the Mackinac Island straw poll,” said Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science. “Different people do well in this or that one because they are better organized or have a natural support in that area.”

The polls mean far more than the straw poll events, Schmidt said, and the biggest measurement is a victory in Iowa or New Hampshire.