DES MOINES, Iowa — In the days since Republicans lost an election many in the party thought was theirs, chatter has been bubbling about what the GOP should do to recover.
For Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, it starts with the smallest of actions: abandoning the state's now-infamous straw poll.
Once a festive checkpoint on the road to the leadoff Iowa caucuses, the poll has devolved into a full-blown sideshow, Branstad and other critics contend. They say it's an unfair and false test that has felled good candidates and kept others from competing in the state.
It's just something that's gotten totally out of control, said veteran GOP presidential campaign consultant Charlie Black. It's been bad for years, but no one has had the guts to say it until now.
The poll, which morphed over the decades into a closely watched early test of caucus campaign strength, had outlived its usefulness, Branstad told The Wall Street Journal this week. Some activists contend it amplifies the voices of candidates lacking broad appeal.
Branstad says he has widespread support for a different event to replace the poll, held in Ames the summer before every contested presidential caucus since 1979.
Branstad's allies are urging the party to substitute the straw poll with a summer fundraiser, without a vote.
Without the straw poll, the caucuses may lure back all top-tier Republican contenders, Branstad's supporters say. That would raise the stakes for the caucuses by making them truly the first event to winnow the field.