DES MOINES — Jeb Bush hasn’t made it official whether he’s running or not, but a spokesman said Tuesday he won’t be campaigning for the Republican nomination for president at the Iowa GOP Straw Poll.
Instead of attending the Aug. 8 straw poll at Boone, the former Florida governor will be at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta that features conservative speakers.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann was quick to react to the news, and he was not pleased.
“We hope Gov. Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grassroots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them,” Kaufmann tweeted about Bush’s decision to attend the four-day forum rather than the straw poll.
“We don’t buy this excuse, and neither will Iowans,” Kaufmann said, adding, “other candidates have already indicated that they will be attending both.”
It’s not certain, however, how many GOP hopefuls will be participating in the straw poll, which is considered an early indicator of a candidate’s organizational ability since its introduction in 1979.
Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, said it was disappointing that Bush won’t participate, but he said his candidate, Ben Carson, hasn’t decided whether the will be there either.
“We’re monitoring right now,” said Taylor, who with his wife, Christi, is heading Carson’s Iowa campaign. “My advice at this point is to keep an open mind. We’ve got it on the agenda.”
The reaction from the Carly Fiorina campaign was similar. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO is traveling in Iowa and plans to spend a lot of time in the state, campaign adviser Christopher Rants said. He declined to say whether he was advising her to participate and referred questions to a campaign spokeswoman.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said in Cedar Rapids last week that it’s too soon to decide whether to participate. He’s still developing his strategy, he said.
“We’ll decide what’s best for the campaign, what’s best to win the caucus,” Huckabee said. “I’m waiting to see who else gets in.”
In Bush’s case, recent polling suggests he has little support among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers. He finished in seventh place in a Quinnipiac University Poll, which found 45 percent didn’t think he is conservative enough. One-quarter of those polled said they definitely would not support Bush.
The value of straw poll participation for a candidate is debatable. The poll results are non-binding and have no official affect on Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. In addition to being a test of organizational strength, the winner gets a significant boost in media coverage and is seen, if only briefly, as the frontrunner.
In three of six straw polls, the winner has gone on to win the caucuses and only twice has the winner won the nomination. In every case, either the winner or runner-up at the straw poll has won the caucuses.
Rep. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who plans to back former Texas Gov. Rick Perry if he runs, said it’s questionable whether the 2011 straw poll helped anyone.
“Ask Michele Bachmann,” he said referring to the Minnesota congresswoman who won that straw poll but finished sixth in the caucuses.