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Idaho sets Jan. 6 GOP presidential straw poll

Wed., Oct. 26, 2011, 9:52 a.m.

BOISE - Idaho’s Republican Party has scheduled its first-ever presidential straw poll in Boise on Jan. 6, and is hoping to attract the candidates to the Gem State to woo the state’s Republican voters.

Why it thinks they’ll show: With 32 delegates, heavily-GOP Idaho has more delegates at stake than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada. And then there’s the timing - three days after the Iowa caucuses.

“This is a non-binding straw poll, but this is really an effort to bring the presidential candidates out to Idaho to address our issues,” said party Executive Director Jonathan Parker, “to get to know Idahoans, and hopefully plant some seeds for the March 6 caucuses to determine to which candidate Idaho will send its 32 delegates.”

However, the timing may bump up against the much-watched New Hampshire primary, which is likely to be on Jan. 10 - the Tuesday following the Friday event in Idaho.

“My first impression was wow, that’s really squeezing up against the New Hampshire primary,” said Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief.

New Hampshire has had the nation’s first presidential primary election since the 1920s, and prides itself on drawing all the candidates for a marathon of face-to-face campaigning to residents of the small state. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner said in a statement, “We have the largest turnout in the country, and our citizens take their roles and obligations seriously.”

As a result, after the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates generally head straight to New Hampshire, clear on the far side of the country from Idaho, and stay there until the primary.

However, Moncrief noted that New Hampshire’s is an open primary in which moderate Republicans tend to do well, as opposed to Iowa’s GOP caucus, which is dominated by conservatives. “Usually when you have a big field like this, some candidates kind of focus on Iowa, some focus on New Hampshire, and some focus on Florida or Nevada,” he said. “So there may very well be some candidates, especially some very conservative candidates, who feel New Hampshire isn’t the right venue for them, so they might actually come to Idaho. That seems like it’s possible.”

That’s unlikely to include the front-runners, however, he said; they’ll want to make a mark in the high-profile New Hampshire vote.

Idaho’s GOP straw poll will be held at the Riverside Hotel in Boise; any Idaho resident who wants to be a registered Republican can buy a $30 ticket and participate. “They will just need to contact state party headquarters to reserve their ticket ahead of time, or they can just pay at the door,” Parker said. “People that show up, purchase a ticket, we’ll be registering them as a Republican as well.”

Idaho will have party registration for the 2012 elections for the first time in its history, after lawmakers changed the state’s election system this year in response to a lawsuit from the GOP, which wanted to close its party primaries to anyone other than registered Republicans.

This year also will mark a change for the party in its presidential delegate selection; rather than selecting delegates in the May primary election, it will join the Idaho Democratic Party in holding party caucuses. The Republicans have set theirs for Super Tuesday, March 6.

The straw poll idea was approved by the party’s executive committee last summer; it’ll be held in conjunction with the party central committee’s winter meeting, which will take place the Saturday following the Friday straw poll.

“This is the first-of-its-kind event” for the party, Parker said. “I imagine a pretty good crowd will be in attendance. … We anticipate the presidential candidates themselves will want to get their supporters to the event.”

GOP presidential candidates will be given an opportunity to address the crowd at the straw poll, and also to have booths in a lobby area outside to “hand out material and basically to woo our voters for the straw poll,” Parker said.

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