WHO-TV’s Dave Price asked over at Politico Magazine is Iowa over? I would say no. I would also say the same about New Hampshire and South Carolina. The lead-off states are just as important as they have ever been. It is in the lead off states where a candidate will gain traction.
The race towards the 2016 Iowa Caucuses may look different however and the first casualty may be the Iowa Straw Poll.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) may have helped to accomplish what Iowa Governor Terry Branstad had been trying to do since returning to office – eliminate the Iowa Straw Poll even if their motivations are different.
Branstad wanted to eliminate it to make Iowa a friendlier state to moderate/establishment candidates. Huckabee in his announcement said it is not worth the resources.
“History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from the past. 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,” Huckabee wrote in an op/ed in The Des Moines Register.
The Republican Party of Iowa, in my opinion, made some great changes in the straw poll with the intent that it would not be held on the backs of candidates. So in that regard Huckabee’s argument doesn’t quite wash. For the most part candidates will spend on the Iowa Straw Poll what they choose to spend, and they won’t have to truck in food, entertainment or spend thousands of dollars on prime real estate.
But those changes may have come too late and the specter of the 2011 Ames Straw Poll looms.
Huckabee is not alone, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have said they would not attend. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) are iffy. While the Iowa Straw Poll may go on it will likely lose its effect at weeding candidates out.
For candidates like Huckabee and Santorum who placed in the Iowa Straw Poll higher than expected, and then won the Iowa Caucuses, the risks may not outweigh the rewards.
All of those candidates who are skipping or may skip, with the exception of Bush, are campaigning in the state. They are meeting with grassroots, and they are attending multi-candidate events. Candidates who do attend the Iowa Straw Poll and do well may still see a boost.
The Iowa Caucus is not irrelevant even without the Iowa Straw Poll. Ultimately our grassroots will still make their choice come Caucus night and that will set the stage.