Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he's skipping the Iowa Straw Poll, the traditional summer event where Iowans can hobnob with candidates and watch them eat fried food.
Bush, the former Florida governor, will instead attend RedState Gathering, a conservative conference in Atlanta on the same weekend in August, according to the Des Moines Register.
The absence of Bush, a frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, is a loss for the Iowa Republican Party's straw poll. State GOP chair Jeff Kaufman was clearly not pleased, tweeting his disappointment.
“We don’t buy this excuse and neither will Iowans,” Kaufman said. He noted that the conference is a four-day event, and other GOP candidates, including Carly Fiorina and Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), have indicated that they will likely attend both the conference and the straw poll.
Bush trails in Iowa, according to recent polls.
The Iowa Straw Poll has diminished in significance and has had little bearing on the presidential race during the last two election cycles. In 2007, Mitt Romney won the straw poll and went on to finish second in the Iowa caucuses. However, he dropped out of the race a month later, when eventual nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won most of the subsequent primaries. Four years later, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) emerged victorious in the straw poll, but exited the race by early January, after finishing only sixth in the caucuses.
Some critics of the straw poll say it gives an unfair advantage to candidates who pay for their supporters’ admission. To vote in the straw poll, attendees must buy tickets, so campaigns have been known to provide financial backing for busloads of supporters. Tickets for the last Iowa straw poll, in 2011, cost $30.
In addition, the event requires candidates to set aside thousands of dollars for giant tents and other logistical features. In 2011, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) spent $31,000 so that he could pitch his tent close to the site of the voting. Bachmann spent thousands on golf carts to transport elderly attendees.
Even Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) argued that the event “has outlived its usefulness” and unsuccessfully tried to end it. State GOP officials prevailed, and the event (and its corn dogs and deep-fried Twinkies) will continue this year -- without Jeb Bush.