From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, which you can subscribe to here:
Brace Yourselves. The Iowa Straw Poll Is Coming.
Over on the home page, a look at what the August 8 Iowa straw poll could mean for Ted Cruz.
The Iowa GOP wants the August 8 straw poll, moved from Ames to Boone, to be a useful measuring stick for the GOP presidential candidates competing hardest in Iowa caucuses in January — candidates like neighboring governor Scott Walker, Cruz, past Iowa caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, and perhaps Rick Perry, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio.
I’m already seeing in the comments that the poll doesn’t matter. Yes, past straw-poll winners include 2011’s Michele Bachmann, who went on to spend $15 million and finish with 5 percent in the Iowa caucuses; 2007 winner Mitt Romney; 1995 co-winner Phil Gramm; 1987 winner Pat Robertson, and 1979 winner George H. W. Bush. None of those figures went on to win the nomination, nor even the Iowa caucus the following year.
But . . . if you figure Rand Paul gets something around the 27 percent his father did in 2011, that leaves 73 — let’s say, 70 to 80 percentage points to spread around Walker (the current polling front-runner in Iowa), Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum, Perry, Carson, and Rubio.
Unless that 70 to 80 percent splits evenly among those seven, somebody’s coming out of the straw poll with a single-digit finish. Yes, the straw poll is only a snapshot, and the folks who show up are the diehard activists. But if you’re a Republican running for president, getting a bunch of diehard activists in Iowa excited is supposed to be an easy lay-up. And isn’t getting conservative activists excited what Ted Cruz is particularly good at?
Jeb Bush already decided he won’t participate in the straw poll, and none of the other GOP contenders are willing to say quite yet they’re definitely going to participate.
The Republican party of Iowa, recognizing that some campaigns came to regard the straw poll as a waste of limited resources, enacted changes for this cycle to make participating less expensive. The party now provides free tent space and utilities for the campaigns at the Boone venue, assigned at random. In past cycles, candidates bid between $10,000 and $35,000 for the best spots at the event, close to the balloting locations.
Some campaigns have already quietly told the Iowa GOP they’re interested in participating, according to Charlie Szold, communications director for the Republican party of Iowa.
“We are pretty much where we expect to be on our schedule, maybe even a little ahead of schedule,” says Szold. “The usual marker of the kickoff of the straw poll was the auction for space, and that was usually held in mid to late June. This year we’re holding the lottery for space, and we’ll be holding it in early June. You’ll know, if not with 100 percent certainty, then with 90 percent certainty, who’s participating in the straw poll then.”
Allegedly, skipping the straw poll will harm a candidate; local GOP activists urged Bush to reconsider his decision as he attended the Iowa Republican party’s Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday night. But Bush told reporters in Iowa that he just didn’t see it as worthwhile: “I just don’t do straw polls. It has nothing to do with the caucuses that will ultimately determine how people are going to be successful.”
Pawlenty is the cautionary tale. Entering the straw poll in 2011, he had spent more time in the state than anyone except Santorum. He ran television ads in Iowa until he could no longer afford the expense. Everyone recognized the straw poll was make-or-break for his sputtering campaign. Only 16,892 Iowans participated in the straw poll, and Pawlenty was the choice of 2,293 attendees, or 13.6 percent, a disappointing, distant third place behind Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.
The following morning, Pawlenty appeared on ABC’s This Week. “It’s been a great honor for Mary and me and our team to convey the message of trying to get this country back on track. . . . Obviously, that message didn’t get the kind of traction or lift that we needed and hoped for coming into the and out of the Ames straw poll. We needed to get some lift to continue on and to have a pathway forward. That didn’t happen.”