Iowa’s Republican straw poll got a big setback Thursday, as 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee said he’ll skip the August event.
"I have concluded this year's Iowa Straw Poll will serve only to weaken conservative candidates and further empower the Washington ruling class and their hand-picked candidates," the former Arkansas governor wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register.
He noted that “Past winners in recent straw polls didn't result in caucus victories, and we want to dedicate our resources and focus our volunteers in Iowa towards the caucuses, which matter greatly in determining our next president. And if you question how important the Iowa caucuses really are, just ask our last Republican president or the current Democratic one, who both won the Iowa caucuses on their way to the White House.”
Huckabee, who is still aiming to win Iowa’s February caucus, joins former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in avoiding the event, which until recent years was considered an important test of early political strength.
Huckabee’s decision is surprising because eight years ago, his runnerup finish helped launch his longshot presidential bid. Mitt Romney, who would win the nomination in 2012, won. Huckabee went on to win the caucus in 2008, but faded quickly in other states.
Huckabee is once again a longshot, and said his limited resources motivated him to skip the poll.
"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," he said.
The straw poll will be held in Boone August 8, two days after the first Republican presidential debate. In 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann won, but her campaign went nowhere. That's a busy time on the presidential calendar. The first GOP debate is Aug. 6, and a competing conservative event, the RedState Gathering, is Aug. 6-9 in Georgia.
And GOP activists in Iowa will have already gathered at the same Boone site as the straw poll two months earlier. Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst's inaugural Roast & Ride fundraiser is June 6.