Washington -The Iowa straw poll – a Republican presidential politics staple since 1979 – is struggling to stay credible as two big-name dropouts fuel speculation the controversial event, this year set for Aug. 8, may be doomed.
The event, which has been a big moneymaker for the state party, has been criticized for years, chiefly for two reasons: the cost of full participation for candidates has been prohibitive, and the results have tended to push forward long-shots with no real chance of winning the GOP nomination.
The state party has sought to address some of these issues, moving the event from Ames to a smaller venue in Boone, and no longer requiring candidates to pay enormous sums for prime positions and food for attendees.
But some in the state say the party hasn’t adequately addressed the political risks candidates take by participating in a poll that has only picked the eventual Republican nominee twice in several decades of existence.
The Hill reports Jeb Bush will spend the second weekend in August in Georgia at a gathering hosted by blogger and Red State founder Erick Erickson; also attending will be Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
And last week, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said he’d be skipping the Ames, Iowa event too, writing in the Des Moines Register:
“In 2008, I competed and finished second in the Iowa straw poll — our first big break on our way to winning the Iowa caucuses and receiving the most votes ever cast for a Republican in the history of the Iowa caucuses,” Huckabee wrote. “But to win in 2016, it’s important to learn from the mistakes of the last few election cycles, in which conservatives were divided and opened a path for a more moderate establishment candidate to ultimately win the nomination, only to lose to President Obama.”
Displaying perhaps more candor on the matter, Huckabee went on to note accurately that the winner of the Straw Poll rarely goes on to win either the caucuses or the party’s nomination. And he’s correct. The last politician to win the Straw Poll, the caucuses, and the nomination was George W. Bush in 1999-2000. In fact, Bush remains the only politician to have earned that title in the Straw Poll’s six-election cycle history (Bob Dole won the caucuses and the nomination in 1996, but he shared his Straw Poll victory in 1995 with Sen. Phil Graham).
In fact, just a few days before the last Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13, 2011, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had arguably the best moment of his presidential candidacies. It came when he was speaking on a hay bale in Iowa, and when a liberal protester came after him yelling at him he handled it with ease. For several minutes, Romney beat down hecklers with facts—teaching them about how the economy works and politically taking control away from the leftist protesters. The video of Romney handling the protesters showed a confident leader who could have been the next president of the United States.
But Romney only came in third in that straw poll, losing to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).