Texas staging what could be nation’s biggest GOP presidential straw poll

Posted Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas Republicans hope to stage the biggest presidential straw poll of the 2016 campaign in downtown Fort Worth next year.

They hope the poll will thrust Texas into the national limelight — signaling to voters nationwide which candidate should win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — especially when combined next year with the GOP state convention, one of the largest Republican gatherings in the country.

“We want to make sure that Texas has a greater voice in the national party's selection of our nominee,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri said, referring to last year’s primary election that was delayed until late May, when the presidential race was already decided. “This will give Texas a chance to really help pick the nominee.”

It comes at a time when there may be candidates with Texas ties on the ballot.

Already, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose father is former presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas, have agreed to attend the straw poll. And an invitation to Gov. Rick Perry, a former and possibly future presidential candidate, has been sent out as well.

Now, invitations will soon go out as well to any other potential GOP presidential candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Organizers say they hope 10,000 or more Texans flood downtown Fort Worth for the convention and straw poll.

Texas’ presidential straw poll, coming out next year, could very well set the tone for 2016 Republican primaries nationwide, said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant.

“It makes Texas a leader by example,” he said. “It probably will influence things and what people do, think or say.”

Texas Democrats aren’t so sure.

“We think that holding a presidential straw poll two years before an election is a little ridiculous and it highlights how much they are not focused on working together to find solutions to benefit Texans and our families,” said Tanene Allison, a spokeswoman with the Texas Democratic Party.

“We are very focused and excited about 2014,” she said, adding that her party isn’t likely to hold a presidential straw poll as well. “That will be the focus of the convention next year for us.”

The Republican Party of Texas’ state convention is scheduled June 5-7 2014 in Fort Worth. The Teas Democratic Party State Convention is scheduled June 26-28 2014 in Dallas.

Last straw poll: 2007

Texas Republicans held their first-ever GOP presidential straw poll in Fort Worth on Labor Day weekend in 2007, just months before voters began casting ballots in primary elections across the country.

Republican presidential hopeful Duncan Hunter, a California congressman known for being tough on illegal immigrants, was the top pick of Texans in the 2007 straw poll. Actor Fred Thompson and then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas rounded out the top three.

But Texans’ support wasn’t enough and Hunter dropped out of the presidential race in January 2008 after a poor showing in the Nevada GOP caucuses. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the country’s ultimate GOP presidential nominee, finished in ninth place.

Republican officials said they waited to hold another presidential straw poll in Texas because of the cost of hosting such an event, which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They said they decided to move forward with the marquee event next year because it could be combined with a state convention that was already planned, so the bulk of the costs would already be paid.

And they hope turnout next year will be even greater than the number of alternates and delegates from last year, which was around 11,000.

Republican officials say there are 18,000 alternate and delegate spots available for the 2014 convention.

But delegates and alternates won’t be the only Republicans voting in the straw poll.

Any Texas Republican who pays the $50 facility fee to attend the convention as a guest may cast a ballot for their presidential pick.

The state party has already chosen Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates to conduct the straw poll, officials say.

‘Reading tea leaves’

Any candidate listed on the straw poll ballot may talk to the convention.

Officials say they will announce a new website in the next few weeks to let Texans reserve their credentials to vote in the straw poll.

Munisteri said he hopes Texas will be a leader in the presidential contest not only because of the straw poll, but also because the Lone Star State is is scheduled to be the fifth state to hold its primary in 2016, on March 1 — and because the state has the second largest delegation, with an anticipated 155 delegates.

He said he and other Republican leaders have long looked for ways to increase Texas’ impact in the presidential primary elections.

Miller said they may have found a way.

“Texas is one of the most conservative states in the country ... and how Republicans and conservatives feel about presidential candidates is significant,” he said. “What the poll says and shows will be significant for the beneficiaries — and harmful for those who aren’t.

“People will be reading tea leaves for the future out of this.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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