Jeb Bush to skip Iowa straw poll

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will skip the Iowa straw poll, dealing a major blow to an event that has been the traditional starting point for the presidential campaign.

Bush will instead attend the Red State Gathering in Atlanta during the first week of August, an event hosted by conservative blogger Erick Erickson, along with five other GOP 2016 hopefuls, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

The other candidates attending the Red State confab haven’t said yet whether they’ll also attend the straw poll, but there appears to be an opening to attend both.

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Bush’s absence, first reported by The Des Moines Registerand the competing event in Atlanta, deals a major blow to the Iowa straw poll.

“No matter how you slice it, the fact that Erickson already has commitments from five presidential candidates is a bit of a concern,” former Iowa Republican Party political director Craig Robinson wrote on his blog, The Iowa Republican

“It’s one thing when one candidate opts to attend an event that is competing with the Republican Party of Iowa’s premier political event, but having five candidates do it would deal a blow to the Iowa GOP.”

Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, criticized Bush’s decision on Twitter.

The straw poll has been criticized by mainstream Republicans as boosting hardline conservatives in the party. Then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) won the last Iowa straw poll in 2011. The event has only picked the eventual Republican nominee twice in its several decades of existence but is popular among political observers.

The event is also extremely costly for candidates to participate in, although the Republican Party of Iowa took steps this month to reduce the barriers to entry. It’s been moved from Ames to Boothe, and candidates will no longer have to bid for space or provide food to the masses.

Bush is the front-runner nationally, where he holds a narrow lead in the polls over Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

However, he’s buried in a deep pack of candidates in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state, which many view as an early indication of his troubles with the party's base.

Bush trailed six other likely and declared Republican presidential candidates among likely caucus-goers in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

With Bush out, Robinson said all eyes are now on Walker.

“It should surprise nobody that Jeb Bush is already confirmed to be in Atlanta and not rural Boone on that weekend,” Robinson said. “Erickson actually benefits from holding a competing event with the Straw Poll because it gives candidates like Bush an easy out.

The candidate that is probably the most concerning on RedState’s list is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker," he continued. "Walker is currently the frontrunner in Iowa, and if he opts to not participate in the Straw Poll it will change the dynamics of the event in a substantial way.”

— This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.