Jeb Bush to Skip Iowa Straw Poll

Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting with Puerto Rico’s Republican Party in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on April 28, 2015. (Ricardo Arduengo, AP)
Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting with Puerto Rico’s Republican Party in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on April 28, 2015. (Ricardo Arduengo, AP)

No Iowa Straw Poll for Jeb Bush.

He will instead attend a competing GOP 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.

Bush, a former Florida governor, is the first of the Republican 2016 presidential field to officially opt out of the straw poll, a nationally renowned event that has drawn significant criticism over the years.

The Republican Party of Iowa, which hosts the Iowa Straw Poll, has been working to shore up the straw poll’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.

But for the GOP presidential contenders, the straw poll provides more of a risk-reward analysis. For those who compete, the aim is to do better than expected. This cycle, some contenders have said, they intend to focus instead on the caucuses, which will take place in precincts across the state on Feb. 1.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told The Register:

“We hope Governor Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grassroots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them. The RedState Gathering is a four day event and other candidates have already indicated that they will be attending both. We don’t buy this excuse and neither will Iowans.”

Bush for months has been considered a likely abstainer. His rivals tried to raise expectations for him, arguing he had a recipe for a strong showing because he hired top strategists and because Iowa has a long-standing Bush network that should benefit him. His brother, George W. Bush, won the straw poll in 1999.

But polling has shown that Iowa isn’t exactly friendly territory for Bush. In a Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll from late January, 43% of likely Republican caucus-goers rated Bush as mostly or very unfavorable, the second worst after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. More recently, Bush ranked in seventh place out of 14 GOP contenders tested in a April 25-May 4 Quinnipiac University poll. When Quinnipiac asked likely GOP caucus-goers whether there is any candidate they would definitely not support, 25% named Bush. Bush was at the top of that negative list.

Bush will be in Iowa this weekend for several events, including a town hall meeting in Dubuque, fundraisers for Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner, a big fundraiser that has attracted 11 presidential contenders.

Late Monday, the founder of RedState, Erick Erickson, announced on his blog that Bush, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would speak during the four-day RedState Gathering Aug. 6-9. The Register was first to report that Bush will address the GOP activists in Georgia on Aug, 8, the same day as the Iowa Straw Poll.

So far, none of the presidential contenders have committed to attend the straw poll, but Iowa GOP officials won’t send out the formal invitations for a couple more weeks. Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has said he plans to participate, and his campaign aides say they will review the new rules for the event before officially RSVP’ing.

Who competes in the event, which will take place at the Central Iowa Expo in rural Boone, is about gamesmanship. All it will take is for one candidate to jump in who’s expected to stay out, or vice versa, to change the dynamics. Some candidates will likely wait as long as possible to reveal their plans.

Republican Party of Iowa officials have said they intend to rally such a big audience of Iowans that the presidential contenders feel pressure to attend.

SOURCE: USA Today On Politics – Jennifer Jacobs