Critics say the events are stacked toward well-funded campaigns that can afford to buy blocs of tickets and ferry their supporters to the events.
Iowa Republican Party officials have pushed back against criticisms that its event is a money grab by the Iowa Republican Party. Candidates bid thousands of dollars for plots on the coliseum grounds to erect tents to feed and entertain supporters. The 2007 straw poll cost the state GOP roughly $600,000. Party officials also have lowered the ticket price by $5 to $30 since 2007.
"The notion that the straw poll is seven-figure windfall to the Republican Party of Iowa is simply not accurate. We hope to generate income and have money left over and organize for 2012," Strawn said.
Iowa's has had the effect of stamping front-runners and drive up expectations, as they did for George W. Bush with his victory at Ames in August 1999; likewise with Romney after his all-out effort in 2007.
But Iowa's straw poll also can hobble a candidate who does not meet expectations, as it did for then-Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson in 2007. And only twice in the four Iowa straw polls since the meager 1979 turnout has the eventual caucus winner won.
Mike DuHaime, who managed Giuliani's campaign, said other candidates need more than Romney does the lift a straw poll victory can create.
"It can help create the perception of a serious, national candidate. Most people already believe that about Gov. Romney," said DuHaime. "Why go out and spend a lot of money for something that doesn't carry with it something tangible?"
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