The Big Story: Iowa Straw Poll leaving Ames (Updated)

By Bob Eschliman


For decades, the Republican Party of Iowa has hosted the Iowa Straw Poll as a means of winnowing the field in advance of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. And, ever since the very first Straw Poll was held in 1979, it has been held on the campus of Iowa State University.

That has led some in the media to mistakenly refer to it as “The Ames Straw Poll.”

But, there is a big change coming. On Aug. 8 this year, the Iowa Straw Poll will be held at the Central Iowa Expo east of Boone near the intersection of Iowa Highway 17 and U.S. Highway 30. The State Central Committee made the decision in a unanimous vote this morning. A video was posted by RPI this morning announcing the new venue (scroll down to view it).



“Iowa’s agricultural background has always captured the national imagination, and we feel the Central Iowa Expo will help us showcase this heritage,” Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said. “This venue also allows us to keep ticket prices affordable, ensuring families from across Iowa can participate in this one-of-a-kind event.”

The Central Iowa Expo, which is home to the Farm Progress Show, has been making some headlines of late. Just yesterday, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst announced she would be hosting her first-ever Roast & Ride fundraiser at the venue. In the past, it has also played host to a number of large-scale concert events, including the 2013 LAZERfest rock festival put on by LAZER 103.3 FM in Des Moines.

In its announcement, RPI said the Central Iowa Expo provides:

  • A central location, only 30 minutes from the Des Moines suburbs and no more than 3 hours from the farthest points of the state.
  • Ample and close parking, providing a convenient experience for attendees.
  • An iconic setting well-known throughout Iowa and the Midwest for it’s connection to agriculture. The bucolic surroundings evoke Iowa’s unique history, with a railroad flanking one section and corn and soybean fields surrounding the others.
  • Competitive pricing, which helps keep ticket prices affordable for attendees and candidates.
  • The necessary infrastructure to hold a large and nationally important event.

Governor Branstad said that Central Iowa Expo’s price will help maintain the event’s strong attendance.

“As a former resident of Boone, I couldn’t be happier with the Central Committee’s selection. Making this event more accessible to every Iowan is an important step in keeping the straw poll a must-attend date on the presidential election calendar,” Governor Branstad said. “Boone is a wonderful town and will make a fantastic host for the 2015 Straw Poll.”

Iowa GOP Co-Chair Cody Hoefert said the Iowa Straw Poll is a unique opportunity for Iowans and presidential candidates.

“The Iowa straw poll is a tradition stretching back decades, with past winners including George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney,” Co-Chair Hoefert said. “It’s a family-friendly event that allows Iowans to meet the men and women running to be the next president of the United States. For potential candidates, it’s an unparalleled opportunity to meet thousands of caucus goers in one day.”

The decision to open up the Iowa Straw Poll venue was made because the Iowa State Center, which has always hosted the event in the past, asked for a rental fee State Central Committee members felt was too high. A number of venues approached the RPI about hosting the Iowa Straw Poll this summer, and two others – in addition to the Central Iowa Expo and the Iowa State Center – offered official bids. They were:

“We appreciate the many venues across Iowa that considered hosting the straw poll and those that eventually submitted official bids,” Kaufmann said in February shortly after the bids were received. “The straw poll is one of the largest grassroots events of the presidential cycle and an incredible opportunity for Iowans to meet presidential candidates face to face, and for the candidates to meet tens of thousands of likely caucus goers.”

The Iowa Statesman has asked RPI and each of the venues to provide details of the proposals. Those proposals, which were submitted last month, were considered by the RPI’s Straw Poll Committee, which includes RPI Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, Co-Chir Cody Hoefert, National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, and State Central Committee members Trudy Caviness, Chelle Adkins, Jamie Johnson, and Gary Nystrom.

The Iowa Straw Poll has been held in 1979, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2007, and 2011. In 1999, 2008, and 2011, the event garnered international media attention for Iowa, as well as the Ames and Iowa State University communities.