Call this the least surprising development of the 2016 race — so far, anyway. Jeb Bush has already built a formidable operation and has raised a lot of cash ahead of his announcement, but the one item he lacks is a credible path to victory in Iowa. Rather than press the issue and waste resources, McKay Coppins reports that Team Bush may not bother to campaign seriously in the state at all, after already deciding to skip the straw poll in August:
Jeb Bush’s decision to forego this summer’s Iowa Straw Poll has roiled many conservatives in the state, but that snub might only be the beginning: According to three sources with knowledge of Bush’s campaign strategy, the likely Republican presidential candidate does not plan to seriously contest the first-in-the-nation caucuses — and may ultimately skip the state altogether.
Coppins got a strong denial on the record from Bush spokesman Tim Miller, who told Coppins that Bush would not “skip or ignore Iowa” should he choose to run. On background, though, other sources say the decision has already been made, and pointed to a personnel move that sent a clear signal:
But a top Republican consultant and a high-level fundraiser — both of whom have been courted by the Bush camp, and requested anonymity to recount private conversations — said Bush’s advisers were explicit that the campaign would not seriously invest in Iowa during the primaries. Similarly, an operative involved in Bush’s yet-to-be-announced campaign told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that the state was a low priority.
“If they wanted to play aggressively in Iowa, why would they take the best strategist in Iowa and move him to Miami?” the Bush-aligned operative said, referring to veteran Des Moines-based strategist David Kochel, who was tapped in January to run the national campaign out of its South Florida headquarters.
Most people have dismissed Bush’s chances in Iowa, and Bush himself seems to have focused more attention on New Hampshire. But is this really the smart move? The RealClearPolitics polling averages in Iowa for April put Bush pretty solidly in the mix, coming in a respectable third at 10.8%, with Scott Walker (17.5%) and Marco Rubio (12.0%) just ahead of him. A poll a week ago by Quinnipiac put Bush in seventh place with just 5%, a result included in the RCP average and which seems to be an outlier. A Gravis marketing poll had Jeb in the lead in mid-March with 16%, for instance, just edging Walker at 13%.
Undoubtedly, Bush would have an uphill climb in Iowa. It’s Walker’s backyard, and he’s more familiar with the kind of Midwestern, populist retail campaigning that sells well in Iowa than Bush would be. Other Republicans, like Bobby Jindal and Rubio, have more charisma on the stump, another key attribute for Iowans. Just ask Hillary Clinton after 2008 about the import of that difference.
However, assuming this is true — and Bush’s team is denying it — Bush has already amassed a large cache of resources which should allow him to compete across the spectrum of battlegrounds, especially in the primary against less well-funded opponents. If he’s concerned about primary resources already, what signal does that send about Bush’s staying power even with a big war chest? What other battlegrounds would he cede in a general election as a strategy?
We’ll see whether Coppins has this right and Bush decides to skip Iowa. It’s not a must-win state for Republican nominees, as both John McCain and Mitt Romney learned on their way to the nomination. But Rudy Giuliani learned the hard way that you can’t skip Iowa and then shrug off New Hampshire and South Carolina. Only in the latter does Bush have an early polling lead — by one point over Walker, according to RCP. He doesn’t have that much margin for error.