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Then again, say supporters, many political straw polls and even state primaries fail to predict the winner, and that doesn’t make them less interesting or important. Nobody’s suggesting, for example, that South Carolina stop holding presidential primaries even though its voters went for Newt Gingrich in 2012.

Mr. Schmidt has another idea: Expand the GOP straw poll by urging Democrats to do the same thing, then have Republican and Democratic candidates engage in public debates at the university coliseum.

“Let’s have Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie debate each other at the Ames Straw Poll. I’m serious,” Mr. Schmidt said. “The Democrats might think it’s kind of tacky to copy the Republicans, but they’re missing an opportunity to piggyback on a great event.”