Jeb Bush to skip Iowa Straw Poll


Charlie Coffey/Iowa State Daily

Bruce Rastetter conducts a Q&A session with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about agricultural issues facing the world today. Bush recently announced he will be skipping the Iowa Straw Poll.

Alex Hanson

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will skip the highly watched “Iowa Straw Poll” this August, instead opting to appear at a conservative gathering in Georgia.

The news, first reported by The Des Moines Register on Tuesday, makes Bush the first candidate deciding to skip the traditional gathering of Iowa conservatives held every four years several months before the Iowa Caucus.

“Jeb’s main focus is on fundraising right now,” said Mack Shelley, professor of political science. “There has been a lot of news about him trying to crowd out the competition by raising lots of money, and he seems to be pretty successfully doing that.”

Along with fundraising being his first concern, Shelley said Bush may not have fit in well, being a more “mainstream” Republican compared to the more conservative field.

“The folks who would show up at the Iowa Straw Poll are not real likely to be his constituency base,” Shelley said. “He’s about as close as you get today to a ‘mainstream’ Republican.”

Bush will instead attend a gathering hosted by, a conservative news outlet in Atlanta, Ga. The gathering is scheduled for Aug. 6 to 9 and Bush will reportedly attend on Aug. 8, the date of this year’s straw poll.

Several other declared and potential candidates, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina will attend the Atlanta event.

Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann weighed in on Bush’s decision, tweeting his displeasure on Tuesday.

“We hope Governor Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grassroots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them,” he said on Twitter. “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,” Kaufmann added.

Bush’s decision comes amid a series of changes by the Iowa GOP to the annual straw poll.

Earlier this year, the Iowa GOP announced the straw poll would not be held at its usual location on the Iowa State campus in Ames, instead it will move 15 miles to the west and be held in Boone.

“Much has changed since 1979 and sometimes cherished traditions — like the Iowa GOP Straw Poll — must change too,” Kaufmann wrote recently in a Politico op-ed on May 7, announcing more changes.

The Iowa GOP plans to provide straw poll candidates free tents and utilities, which may save campaigns thousands of dollars from past years when they were required to pay for any of the costs. Campaigns in the past have also paid for food, which the Iowa GOP says will now be provided by vendors on site.

While campaigns may not be paying for a prime location at the event or food for supporters, they may still buy tickets for those planning on supporting them.

“There’s always been a sense that the straw poll was essentially an opportunity to buy votes,” Shelley said. “My understanding is the campaigns will still be giving out tickets, so that still essentially is a ‘bought vote.’”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has criticized the straw poll, saying it has “outlived its usefulness.” Critics have said it does not do a good job at picking candidates for the Iowa Caucus or the Republican nomination.

In 2007, for example, Gov. Mitt Romney won the straw poll, while Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus and Sen. John McCain went on to be the Republican nominee.

In 2011, then Rep. Michelle Bachman won the straw poll, while Sen. Rick Santorum narrowly won the Iowa Caucus. Romney went on to be the Republican nominee.

“Whether it’s relevant or not anymore depends on where you are in the Republican Party,” Shelley said. “Branstad and others, from the more establishment wing of the party, see something like the straw poll as kind of a threat to the establishment base.”

Shelley noted concern over candidates, such as Bachman and former Rep. Ron Paul, who are seen as more “fringe” candidates, winning the straw poll.

“Change isn’t easy. After all, we’re conservatives,” Kaufmann wrote. “The Iowa Straw Poll is a tradition worth keeping and I’m proud that we have worked for months to reduce barriers to participation for both Iowans and our candidates.”

The straw poll is open to the public.