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.

"A great country does not live by prosperity alone.  Prosperity must have a greater purpose."


The Tent Scene

About 70 buses brought in Bush supporters from around the state; buses also shuttled from Des Moines to Ames every 15 minutes from about noon to 8:00 p.m. making for a grand total of about 100 bus trips to Ames.  Arriving supporters checked in at a long row of tables; behind that the Bush space was divided into four areas: an entertainment tent, a special event tent, a food tent and a family area. 

Famous Dave's provided barbecue. Stage activities began shortly before 1:00 p.m. with the singing of the national anthem by Benton County Pork Queen Jean CastleTracy Byrd, Linda Davis, Emilio Navaira, and the Nadas performed during the day.  Celebrities on hand included Sean Elliot of the World Champion San Antonio Spurs; Nick Lowery of the Kansas City Chiefs; Kim Rhodes, the 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist in skeet shooting; Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys; Johnny Morris, World Champion Bass Fisherman, and Former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, among others.  Politicians on hand included four governors (Govs. John Engler of Michigan, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Marc Racicot of Montana and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin), Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and five congressmen, including J.C. Watts and John Kasich

Around 2:00 Bush greeted motorcyclists who had participated in a freedom ride, led by Sen. Nighthorse Campbell and joined by Gov. Thompson, from the Iowa State Capitol to Ames.  The Bush campaign also invited straw poll attendees to bring a canned good or other non-perishable food item for donation to the Olivet Neighborhood Mission in Cedar Rapids.

In the first half of 1999, George W. Bush raised $36 million, he consistently ran far ahead of the Republican field in polls, he racked up endorsements, and he received extraordinary media coverage.  So much for the national picture; the question was would it play in Iowa where grassroots organizing is required. 

Given his strong position, Bush's participation in the Ames straw poll was not a foregone conclusion, but his Iowa campaign advised him not to skip the event. 

Luke Roth, executive director of Bush's Iowa campaign, set the bar high by stating a specific goal of turning out 5,000 supporters at Ames.  (By comparison, in 1996 the Dole and Gramm campaigns had each gained 2582 votes, and in that contest out-of-staters were allowed to vote). Bush's competitors charged he was attempting to buy the election; one rumor floated in early June had it that the campaign had offered to buy all the straw poll tickets! 

Ames would mark the first time Bush shared the stage with other presidential hopefuls since the Midwest Leadership Conference in Indianapolis in August 1997; his performance in that event was deemed by most observers to be uninspired. 

Bush made his first visit to Iowa on June 12, 1999, while other candidates had been plying the state for years. By the eve of the straw poll Bush had participated in 27 events in Iowa on 9 days; by comparison some of his competitors had spent 27 days or more in the state in 1999 alone.
(August 13,1999) A front porch picnic in Indianola.

Outcome: First--7,418 Votes (31.3%)
Bush secured a comfortable win, gaining a record number of votes, surpassing the 5,000 vote goal set by his Iowa campaign, and finishing well ahead of the nearest challenger Steve Forbes.  At the same time, Forbes and other competitors were quick to point out that almost seven in ten of those who voted opted for a candidate other than Bush.  Spokesperson Karen Hughes stated, "I think that's the way of people who did not win the straw poll to try to explain why they did not win the straw poll." 

Hughes said the campaign had slightly exceeded its target spending level of $750,000: "We ended up spending a little more today to buy extra tickets; we had factored in I think about 5,000 tickets and we ended up buying more than that."  The final total was about $825,000 including spending on the day of the poll.

After the results were announced Bush spokeperson Karen Hughes summed them up in a media availability on the floor of the Coliseum:

"Governor Bush exceeded all expectations and shattered the records, winning more than three times as many votes as had ever been won by any winner of the Iowa straw poll.  It was just a great night.  We know it's only the beginning but this was a fabulous way to jump start our organization for when it counts which is the caucuses in late January."

Bush's statement:

August 14, 1999

Governor Bush Thanks Iowans for Straw Poll Victory!

"Thank you very much. Thank you. Laura and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We want to thank our organization in Iowa, our hundreds of volunteers and all the Iowans that came out to vote for me today. Today, we shattered every record for the Ames Straw Poll. We met our expectations and we won this straw poll the Iowa way. 

"Two months ago, when my Iowa supporters convinced me to participate in this straw poll, some pundits said I had nothing to gain and potentially a lot to lose. Well thanks to you, we gained a lot. We have more than accomplished what we set out to do. We jump-started our grassroots organization for the main event, the Iowa caucuses. Today was also a great day for the Republican Party of Iowa. There is a new energy in the state, there’s a new enthusiasm in this state. And this new energy will help Republicans take back the White House in the year 2000. 

"I want to congratulate my fellow candidates and their organizations that worked very hard today as well.

"The winner today was not just George W. Bush. It was the Republican Party and our great ideas. It was the democratic process. This is the great festival of democracy that we participated in today. I want you to know that I know this is just the beginning. I have a lot of work to do. But the victory today in Iowa put me on the road to earning the nomination of the Republican Party.

"I appreciate all of you who took time out of your lives to come here to Ames. I’m most grateful. Thank you very much and God bless you all."