Republican Party of Iowa's Official Presidential Straw Poll
Ames, IA   August 14, 1999
Copyright 1999 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.  All rights reserved.

  "...just as 20 years ago my first job was to restore respect to the office of the governor, my first job as president of the United States will be to restore respect to the office of president of the United States."         [transcript]


The Tent Scene

The Alexander campaign organized 36 buses which made approximately 90 stops to bring supporters to Ames.  The earliest pickup was at 7:00 a.m and the latest return was 1:30 a.m the next morning.  3,100 plates of food were served at the Taste of Tennessee pre-event: ribs, barbecued pork sandwiches, beans and cole slaw provided by Mustard's ("The Best Ribs on the Planet").  The Taste of Tennessee stage program started shortly after 1 p.m. and included the Southeast Polk Gold and Silver pom-pom squads, master of ceremonies "The Iowa Boy" Chuck Offenburger, former Gov. Terry Branstad, Miss Iowa Jaclyn Solinger, a "Best of Iowa" chorus directed by Weston Noble, coach Johnny Majors, Sen. Fred Thompson, Sen. Howard Baker, and singer Crystal Gayle.  The program wrapped up with all the celebrities on stage singing "God Bless America" as Alexander played piano. 
By summer 1999 the Ames Straw Poll came to assume more significance to the Alexander campaign than perhaps any of the other Republican contenders.  Lagging in the polls and in fundraising, Alexander put almost all his emphasis on Iowa. 

Alexander had done credibly in the 1995 Ames Straw Poll, finishing fourth behind Dole, Gramm and Buchanan with 1156 votes (10.9%).  In the Feb. 1996 Iowa caucuses, Alexander finished third with 17,003 votes (17.6%).  After the 1996 campaign he did not let up.  Alexander's 1997 signings of Brian Kennedy, a former chair of the Iowa GOP, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to his Campaign for a New American Century political action committee were early indicators that he would mount a serious challenge in Iowa.  Alexander spent 36 days in the state from Jan. 20, 1997 to the end of 1998 and another 15 days in the period from Jan. 1, 1999 to June 30, 1999. 

On June 8, 1999 the campaign announced leadership in all of Iowa's 99 counties.  On July 7, 1999 Alexander launched his "Homecoming '99" bus tour; in an RV dubbed "Exceeding Expectations" he traveled to at least 60 counties in the six weeks leading up to the straw poll.  Starting at the end of July the campaign also spent about $100,000 of its limited funds to air a TV spot in Iowa.  "Auction"  used a humorous approach to raise the issue of big money attempting to buy the nomination, although it did not refer to any specific candidate.
(August 12, 1999) Lamar Alexander visited his Iowa campaign headquarters shortly before the straw poll.

Outcome: Sixth--1,428 Votes (6.0%)
In light of this extensive effort, Alexander's sixth place finish at Ames with 1,428 votes was not enough, and he quit the race on August 16. [transcript]

More Expectations
Here's how Alexander responded to questions on the straw poll posed by the New York Times' Richard Berke at the Republican Midwest Leadership Conference in Omaha, NE one week before the event in Ames.

My hope is that I will do so well that you'll write a front page story in the New York Times that will say, number one, Lamar Alexander yesterday looked like a man who could be president of the United States...he had an organization that could win the Iowa caucus in January.  That will be what I'd like to see come out of the straw poll.

QUESTION: Where would you have to place to do that?

Well I don't know--  There are two divisions in the straw poll.  There's the million-dollar-plus division and there's those of us who are spending less than $1million.  So Mr. Bush and Mr. Forbes are spending huge amounts of money.  Money talks; they ought to win. 

But what I hope to show is that I've got a caucus organization that can win in January, and if I do I hope that the media and Republicans around the country say, "Well Lamar Alexander ought to be a part of that contest because it looks like he can win the caucus in January."

QUESTION: Do you think the straw poll should be discontinued?

No I much prefer the straw poll to allowing $1,000 contributions to pick the president.  It's a choice right now between whether you're going to let the media report that because Mr. Bush has raised a lot of money, he's automatically president or have a straw poll that is not a perfect system and is heavily influenced by money, but it still has actual real human beings voting in it...