The Iowa straw poll is quickly approaching – it’s scheduled for August 8th in Boone – but it’s not clear how many Republican candidates will actually show up for the event.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a declared GOP presidential candidate, announced Thursday he won’t be attending. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), both potential GOP presidential candidates, also will not be attending the grassroots event.
The Iowa Straw poll is a historical grassroots event because it comes about six months before voting in the first caucus state and can provide possible insight into which GOP candidate might win the caucuses—and therefore get a boost heading into New Hampshire and South Carolina. It’s not completely about who wins the straw poll: It’s also an opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves to Republican caucus-goers in an informal and personal setting. The candidates get to talk directly to the voters, rather than through the filter of a mainstream media or through speeches from a podium.
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).
“The Iowa Straw Poll has grown into one of the largest grassroots events on the presidential nomination calendar, drawing tens of thousands of Caucus-going activists mere months before they’ll cast a Caucus vote,” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a recent op-ed.
But this year, the Iowa GOP is having trouble getting the straw poll off the ground. Some in Iowa conservative circles, like nationally-syndicated Iowa-based radio host Steve Deace, think this could have been avoided if there weren’t so many previous efforts to kill the straw poll.
“Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has publicly condemned the Iowa Straw Poll at every opportunity the past few years,” Deace said in an email to Breitbart News.
Then he invested heavily in taking back control of the state party, and his state party leadership has botched it by moving it to a poor venue that’s only still open because of taxpayer bailouts. Other than Ben Carson I know of no other campaign that actually wants to do it. Why spend all that money just to be called the next Michele Bachmann by the media, especially with Jeb Bush getting a free pass? It’s a shame, because it’s been one of the last great events of political Americana, but I fear this straw poll will be little more than an outdoor sweat-a-thon during a scorching hot Iowa summer — if it happens at all.
Thus far Graham, Bush, and Huckabee have said they’ll skip the event, and the only GOP presidential candidate who confirmed to Breitbart News he will in fact be there August 8th is Dr. Ben Carson.
Over the past few weeks, Breitbart News reached out to all the GOP presidential candidates and potential candidates to ask them why they think the Iowa straw poll is important and if they are preparing for it.
“We expect to participate in the Iowa straw poll,” Deanna Bass, spokesperson for Dr. Ben Carson, told Breitbart News. “We see the Iowa straw poll as a very good organizing tool.”
But Carson’s the only one confirming right now.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina did not confirm whether she will participate in the straw poll. “Right now Carly is enjoying traveling to the state and meeting with Iowa voters,” Fiorina’s spokesperson Anna Epstein said.
Sergio Gor, spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), said he is “undecided” on the importance of the Iowa straw poll and whether he is preparing to attend.
Also, under the undecided category is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Walker isn’t an official candidate yet, so a decision from him on the Iowa straw poll may come later.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who has indicated he will officially launch his presidential campaign June 1st, says he will not attend the straw poll.
Brittany Bramell, spokesperson for Graham, said he announced the decision “in an interview with Radio Iowa back in March.”
“Take a pass,” Graham said. “I’m not going to go, you know, pay people to vote for me. We’ll let the people of Iowa do it for free. To me, the Straw Poll is more of a political sideshow.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is also expected to launch his official campaign this summer, also said he would be skipping the event to attend a conservative forum in Georgia that occurs on the same day.
According to CNN, Bush’s decision didn’t sit well with the Iowa GOP.
“We hope Governor Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grassroots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them,” Kaufmann tweeted, according to CNN.
Kristy Campbell, a spokesperson for Bush recently told Breitbart News that Bush’s decision has stayed the same, and he won’t be attending the event.
Official GOP candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as well as potential candidate Rick Santorum failed to respond to Breitbart News with their position on the Iowa straw poll.