Surprise: Jeb Bush skipping Iowa straw poll in August

Lotta buzz about this in the political Twittersphere this afternoon. I can’t figure out why.

The likely Republican presidential candidate will instead attend a competing event, the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, the day of the Iowa event, GOP sources in Iowa told The Des Moines Register Tuesday. A spokesman for Bush confirmed the report…

The Republican Party of Iowa, which hosts the Iowa Straw Poll, has been working to shore up the event’s reputation and lure candidates by addressing some of the most prevalent complaints. Last week, Iowa GOP officials announced they’ll provide free tent space and utilities for the campaigns. The straw poll has been bashed as having outsized importance, even to the point of having losing candidates drop out of the race. Campaigns sometimes spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the straw poll as a sort of dry run for the Iowa caucuses…

Recent polling has shown that Iowa isn’t exactly friendly territory for Bush. He ranked in seventh place out of 14 GOP contenders tested in a April 25-May 4 Quinnipiac University poll. When asked if there is any candidate they would definitely not support, 25 percent of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers named Bush. That put Bush at the top of that negative list.

The Ames straw poll is one of the most depressing events of the primary circus, a process better known for blowing up good candidates on the launchpad than for launching them to national success. Romney won it in 2007 and ended up losing to Mike Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses; his campaign didn’t last past CPAC the following year. Michele Bachmann won it in 2011, a devastating blow to Tim Pawlenty’s nascent campaign, and was back to being a single-digit candidate within two months. Even the state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, acknowledged after the 2012 election that it’s little more than a fundraising scam for the Iowa GOP whose usefulness faded ages ago. Romney learned his lesson after 2007 that the straw poll is no predictor of success in the caucuses and chose to skip it in 2011. He ended up finishing seventh in the poll — but came within 34 votes of beating Rick Santorum in the caucuses five months later. There’s little upside to winning the poll, in other words, and lots of downside to finishing badly and having to endure the sort of naysaying that drove T-Paw from the race before a single ballot was cast. Jeb Bush looked at all that and realized, quite logically, that he’s better off ignoring it and focusing on the caucuses instead. And frankly, given Iowa’s diminished role in influencing who wins the nomination, Jeb could probably get away with skipping those too: A field divided a dozen ways is an opportunity for a guy like Jeb with no strong local constituency but lots of money to attract fencesitters, but the risk that he’ll lag behind more identifiable social conservatives like Walker, Cruz, or Carson is high. He’s better off downplaying Iowa and focusing on New Hampshire, a better fit for him with a more moderate GOP electorate. Iowa just doesn’t matter like it used to.

In fact, I wonder if there’s anyone — anyone — in this thousand-man field who’d actually benefit from competing in the straw poll this time. Even Huckabee and Walker, who’d stand to do well, recognize the relative upside and downside of competing and are hedging about it. Typically a guy like Ben Carson would be a perfect fit since winning the poll would bring him some attention within the state, but even Carson stands to lose more than he’ll gain if he competes and loses. The narrative will change overnight from “Longshot Carson a threat in evangelical-heavy Iowa race” to “Longshot Carson already fading as GOP race in Iowa heats up.” The guys who are polling lower than Carson right now in Iowa also may not want to chance it in the straw poll if they’re otherwise credible contenders for the nomination. What would Bobby Jindal gain, in other words, for competing at Ames and losing to someone like Carson? He’d go from a talented dark horse with a strong chance to break out if other social cons falter from a guy who got humiliated by the most amateur candidate in the field. Same goes for someone like Carly Fiorina. Her best bet to influence the race is to hang around as long as possible, get some face time with Republican voters at the debates, and impress them as a better messenger than most of her more celebrated rivals. She could easily pull together the sort of cash needed to bus voters in to vote for her in the straw poll — but why would she, when losing might turn her into an even more marginal candidate who arguably doesn’t deserve a debate invite? No one gains from participating at Ames except maybe someone like Rick Santorum, who has nothing to lose this time with expectations for him in this field stuck at zero and a bit of welcome “Iowa still loves him!” buzz to gain if he does well.

Via the Daily Caller, skip to 6:45 for Ann Coulter pushing aside all of this horse-race nonsense and urging Republicans to come to their senses by nominating a Romney/Walker ticket. What can I say? When she’s right, she’s right.

Jazz Shaw Jul 03, 2022 10:01 AM ET