Whether it was at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last February, or most recently, at the Midwestern Republican Leadership Conference in Minneapolis last week, straw polls on the Republican presidential race make news and pack a wallop. Certainly, Ron Paul’s clout within the GOP contest is due in part to his string of wins in disparate straw polls, as is the recent surge of Herman Cain.
So that is why pundits and pols are paying increasing attention to what looks to be the final Republican straw poll before the Iowa caucus in January: The one held by the nation’s oldest and largest Republican volunteer organization, the National Federation of Republican Assemblies (NFRA).
“Unless there’s someone out there who thinks they can organize a straw poll between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re up last,” NFRA President Rod Martin told HUMAN EVENTS, noting that NFRA will hold its national convention Oct. 28 to 30 at (“appropriately”) the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines, Iowa.
Following the historical sage of the volunteer group back to its days as a California operation, one quickly realizes the political significance of the group in the presidential mix today. Founded in California in 1934 by then-State GOP Chairman Earl Warren (who went on to be governor of California and chief justice of the U.S.), the California Republican Assembly (CRA) was designed to attract young volunteers to the reelection effort of Republican Gov. Frank Merriam against Democratic nominee Upton Sinclair, best-selling author and onetime Socialist.
For the next two decades, the CRA was under moderate control. But in the early 1960s, the growing number of Golden State conservatives took over the volunteer group. Beginning with Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid in 1964 (in which he clinched the Republican nomination after a narrow win in the California primary) and Ronald Reagan’s nomination for governor in a contested primary in ’66, the CRA’s endorsement was (and remains) the gold standard for conservatives vying for the Republican nomination for anything in California.
“In 1997-’98, we decided to take the CRA concept nationwide, to mobilize conservative volunteers and stop the liberal tail from wagging the conservative dog,” recalled Martin, a high-tech entrepreneur in Florida who was formerly policy director for Arkansas Gov. (1996-2006) Mike Huckabee. Beginning in Arizona and Nevada, there are now NFRA chapters in most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It goes without saying that, at a time when few embrace the label of “liberal Republican” anymore, and the terms “conservative” and “Republican” are almost mutually inclusive, the overwhelming number of NFRA members are young, eager, and conservative. The group’s official slogan is “The Republican Wing of the Republican Party.”
National Republican leaders pay attention to the NFRA, and several are expected in Des Moines later this month. Recently, former Ohio State Treasurer and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell, and 2010 Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle of Nevada have joined the organization’s board.
“And if you haven’t heard a lot about NFRA,” said Rod Martin, “you will Oct. 28 to 30.”