Huckabee: Iowa straw poll only empowers DC "ruling class," and I'm out

The Iowa straw poll has become a flashpoint on several levels among Republicans, especially after last cycle’s event upended the presidential race for what appeared to be no benefit at all to the national GOP. No one who finished near the top in 2011 came close to winning the state; for those who don’t recall, the final result was Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Tim Pawlenty, none of whom were a factor by the time of the Iowa caucuses. Jeb Bush has already indicated that he won’t participate, but no one thought he’d do well anyway and he has other resources to promote himself.

Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, absolutely needs Iowa in order to have any hope of being taken seriously. What does it say when Huckabee, who parlayed a surprise win in Iowa in January 2008 into a top-ranked challenge for the nomination, throws the Iowa straw poll under the bus — in the state’s biggest newspaper, no less?

“I have concluded this year’s Iowa Straw Poll will serve only to weaken conservative candidates and further empower the Washington ruling class and their hand-picked candidates,” Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, writes in a guest opinion piece published Thursday in The Des Moines Register.

It’s a blow to the Republican Party of Iowa, which decided to go ahead with this year’s event despite years of criticism and repeated calls for its death from outside and inside Iowa. Last week, the Register reported that another leading GOP contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, had decided to bypass the Iowa Straw Poll. …

Huckabee references “limited resources” in his op-ed, telegraphing that his bank account isn’t as deep as his backers might want it to be.

“It’s clear that pitting conservative candidates with limited resources against each other in a non-binding and expensive summer straw poll battle, while allowing billionaire-backed establishment candidates to sit out, will only wound and weaken the conservative candidates who best represent conservative and hard-working Iowans,” wrote Huckabee in an apparent dig at Bush.

The dig at the straw poll as a shill for the “Washington ruling class” is a little silly. It’s not the “Washington ruling class” that benefits from the event — it’s the Iowa GOP establishment that does. It’s a fundraiser, and until four years ago one that most candidates didn’t feel like they could abandon, not without doing serious damage to their prospects in the state. After 2011’s results shattered the illusion, the fear of not showing up has dissipated. Clearly, those results didn’t show any evidence at all of kingmaking.

In fact, the only firm commitment the straw poll has at the moment is from … Donald Trump. Others, such as Ted Cruz and Scott Walker, have signaled that they are considering it, but many of the candidates have committed to appear at the Red State Gathering on the same days. Red State, a sister publication to Hot Air in the Salem Media Group, had tried to work with the Iowa GOP on avoiding the conflict, as Erick Erickson explained last week:

This year, we were mindful that this could potentially conflict with the Iowa Straw Poll, so we looked at dates ranging from starting July 30th to starting August 13th.  We reached out to the Republicans in Iowa, who were very insistent that the Straw Poll would coincide with the Iowa State Fair, as it always had.  In August of 2014, as we concluded the last RedState Gathering, we announced we would set this year’s Gathering for the week before the Iowa State Fair.

The Iowa State Fair is set to start on August 13th, so that left us setting the event on August 6th.

We reached back out to the people in Iowa to make sure there would be no conflict.  Everyone told us there would be no conflict.  See the chart below that shows the dates of the two events. With the exception of 1987, they have, in fact, always coincided.

So in November of 2014 we formally announced the RedState Gathering would be held on August 6-9 in Atlanta in 2015. The morning of the 9th is a casual breakfast where attendees can say their goodbyes to each other.  The main event is the 7th and 8th with a party on the night of the 6th. This year it will be a debate watching party and discussion with Joe Scarborough.

Despite all of this and our reaching out to key contacts within the Republican Party in Iowa repeatedly, the Iowa GOP announced in February that it would put the straw poll on August 8th during the RedState Gathering.  We had, by the way, even tried in January to meet with the Executive Director of the Iowa GOP when we got wind they may be looking to move the straw poll, but we were told pretty bluntly that he “didn’t have time for RedState.”

Folks, we tried.  It seemed like a win-win. The southern states are coordinating an “SEC” primary, so the candidates could be in Atlanta the day after the first debate then head en masse to Iowa for a week of campaigning in the run up to the straw poll. That’s a no brainer from a scheduling standpoint and a great way to build momentum for both the Iowa Straw Poll and the candidates in general. But the Iowans thought otherwise.

It seems as though the Iowa straw poll has run out of gas. It will still go on, of course, and at least some candidates will take part. It’s hard to see how Scott Walker can skip it, for one, and Ted Cruz needs to show he can do retail politicking outside of Texas, so it would be a good opportunity for him. Don’t expect campaigns to drop the kind of big dollars they have in the past, though, and don’t expect anyone outside of the organizers to take it too seriously.