Washington Post 08-08-07 It's not official, but Iowa straw poll has draw GOP candidates raise the stakes for political tradition By JON COHEN Washington Post High on the list of superpowers a campaign might wish for would be the ability to manipulate opinion surveys, and on Saturday in Ames, Iowa, Republican presidential contenders will get to live that dream through the Iowa straw poll. The event, a tradition in election cycles in which there is no GOP incumbent, is billed as an indicator of how party members will vote in the Republican caucus in January. Any voting-age Iowan or Iowa college student with a $35 ticket has a say. Few of the 40,000 people who are expected to descend on Iowa State University on Saturday have to pay. The campaigns are more than happy to cover the entrance fee — and so much more. Republican presidential candidates lure Iowans to Ames with not only free tickets, but also transportation, food and entertainment. Before heading in to give a short speech, candidates will hold forth in the tents that each campaign rents around the Hilton Coliseum. This year's favorite, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, advertises "music, barbecue and a whole lot of fun at our tent" on his Web site. The proceeds from ticket sales, tent rentals, parking, etc., will go to the Iowa Republican Party. Ames is important for more than just the state party's bottom line. For candidates trailing in reliable, representative polls and in fundraising, Ames may prove critical. After all, failure to do well in a poll for sale is often seen as an organizational indictment.