WASHINGTON -- The Illinois Republican Party announced Wednesday it will host a straw poll on Aug. 16 at the State Fair in Springfield, an event that may challenge the influence of the Iowa GOP straw poll held five days earlier.
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Illinois is one of the new "super Tuesday" Feb. 5 states -- having moved the primary from March -- and the state party wants to be a player, if for no other reason than to rally the grass roots in a Democratic state.
For presidential contenders, Illinois will also provide a more level playing field than the GOP straw poll in Iowa, the state with the leadoff presidential vote. The GOP presidential campaigns are just getting organized in Illinois, and there is no entrenched front-runner in Illinois.
State GOP party chairman Andy McKenna said with a boost from the straw poll on "Republican Day" at the fair, "Illinois will play a central role in choosing the Republican presidential nominee."
Republican hopefuls former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona have already pulled out of the Aug. 11 Iowa straw poll at Iowa State University; former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is pinning his entire strategy on running well with the party faithful in Iowa.
Unlike the Iowa event, where money is involved -- participants have to buy tickets to vote -- the Illinois GOP straw poll won't charge candidates to participate and voters won't have to pay anything to cast a straw ballot.