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Romney Redux: Jeb Bush Should Think Twice About Playing to Iowa GOP

02/08/2015 05:33 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2015

With Mitt Romney announcing that he will not seek the GOP presidential endorsement again, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is positioned to be the uncontested "establishment" favorite to run in 2016.

But a newBloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll spells trouble for Jeb. He's already "toast" according to Salon. "Jeb Bush has some work to do in Iowa," says the Salon staff.

But before Bush concentrates on winning the Iowa caucuses, he should think twice about making the same mistake that Romney did in trying to capture, or even placate, that Iowa GOP mentality that might play well in the cornfields and pig farms, but not in the East and West Coast states he needs to win the Electoral College.

If Romney had spent more time concentrating on capturing the hearts and minds of women, Hispanics, and young voters and highlighting his very successful moderate agenda as governor in Massachusetts instead of placating the typical Iowa Republican, he would have won battleground states like Florida and Ohio -- and the White House too.

Jeb Bush is a thinker, and not afraid to tackle challenges with thought and determination. Right now, the perception is that Bush's stance on immigration and the Common Core hurts him with voters in Iowa, but those positions are a strong asset he needs to continue to promote.

If he pulls a Romney and starts to play toward the far right to win the Iowa caucuses, it spells big problems for him later on, particularly since he already has considerable baggage from the whole Terri Schiavo fiasco that framed his persona as a bully -- a great social distraction issue for the Democrats.

Iowa continues to be the wrong first battle for Republicans, particularly for well-established centrist candidates. It really should be a primary in a battleground state like Florida, where mix in population represents a better field to frame and build the traditional GOP centrist platform that gets Republicans elected to the White House.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems to have grabbed the early limelight in the Hawkeye State, having recently wowed GOP supporters there with a "breakout performance" at the Iowa Freedom Summit.

According to Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, Walker is the Republican "Vanilla" candidate who has ignited interest because he can be seen both as an experienced executive who got a conservative agenda through his state and as a candidate who can capture the tea party/evangelistic Iowan mentality that wins primaries there.

Writes Goldberg:

The big deal is the vanilla factor (which sounds like a terribly boring spy novel). According to the Register story that accompanied the poll, 51 percent of caucus-goers want an "anti-establishment candidate without a lot of ties to Washington or Wall Street who would change the way things are done and challenge conventional thinking." Meanwhile, 43 percent prefer a more establishment figure "with executive experience who understands business and how to execute ideas.

In a political age characterized by viral divisions in ideology both within the GOP and national politics as a whole, the success of the last two winners of the Iowa GOP presidential caucuses, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, illustrates what a political misfire Iowa is.

A moderate, establishment Jeb should concentrate his time and resources not on Vanilla Iowa, or even New Hampshire, but on the early February contests in Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Utah, and Nevada -- all "meat and potato" states that lead to the White House.

This column appeared in Context Florida on February 4, 2015.

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.