DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he supports a regional system of fundraising forums and events for GOP presidential candidates in 2015 rather than the traditional straw poll in August as a way to raise money, allow Republicans to meet the party hopefuls and preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The Republican governor told reporters his foremost goal is to preserve the leadoff position of the Iowa precinct caucuses in the presidential selection process. To do that, he thinks party leaders should retool the approach in a way that welcomes all candidates and gives Republicans in all parts of the state an opportunity to participate.

A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, issued a statement Monday that “whether or not to have the Iowa straw poll is a matter that will be decided in 2015 by the State Central Committee and the presidential candidates.”

“Any talk prior to then is simply premature,” Spiker said.

Branstad expressed concern that the leading GOP presidential hopefuls in the past two election cycles chose not to participate in the August straw poll held in Ames.

“It used to be an organizational test, and then it became a really big money thing, and now I think it’s become less relevant in light of the last couple of elections,” Branstad said.

He noted that the past two straw poll winners did not go on to finish at the top of the field when the precinct caucuses were held later.

Instead of having one event with a straw poll that he said has become increasingly unrepresentative and irrelevant, Branstad suggested GOP officials organize a series of regional fundraisers and forums that are more inclusive and events where Iowans can meet and hear the presidential candidates as part of the run-up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses in 2016.

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“I think a lot of people have had some real questions about the way that the straw poll thing has evolved,” the governor said.

“I’m trying to look to the future to say let’s come up with a better system that welcomes all the candidates, that gives people from all parts of the state a chance to participate, and the most important thing is to protect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses and make sure all of the candidates feel welcome to participate in that process,” he added.

Branstad said he has not discussed the future of the straw poll with Republican Party leaders, but he hoped both political parties would continue their close collaboration in maintaining the caucuses’ lead-off status. He also said he remains convinced that the best method for winning the Iowa caucuses is to campaign “the old-fashioned way” by visiting all 99 counties and building a statewide organization.

Iowa straw poll winners

*Won GOP presidential nomination

Year Winner
1979 George H.W. Bush
1987 Pat Robertson
1995 Bob Dole*, Phil Gramm
1999 George W. Bush*
2007 Mitt Romney
2011 Michele Bachmann