Mike Huckabee owed much of his breakout success as a presidential candidate in 2008 to Iowa, after finishing second in the straw poll and winning the Iowa caucuses five months later. But the former Arkansas governor said Wednesday he won’t be competing in August’s straw poll, claiming the unscientific poll will divide conservative candidates like himself and give an establishment candidate the edge for the Republican nomination in 2016.
Huckabee’s announcement is a blow to the straw poll, which usually favors candidates from the conservative wing of the GOP. Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely expected to enter the race, has also said he wouldn’t participate in the straw poll, which currently has only two contenders: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Michele Bachmann won the poll in 2011, but finished sixth in the Iowa caucuses and then dropped out of the race.
“After consulting with many of our Iowa volunteers and supporters, as well as key activists whose opinion we value, I have decided to forgo taking part in the Iowa straw poll -- or any other straw poll -- and will instead focus our campaign's attention and resources on the Iowa caucuses,” Huckabee wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register. “Conservative and hard-working Iowans want a strong and principled conservative Republican nominee for president who represents their values. 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.”
Huckabee, who announced his second bid for the presidency earlier this month from his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, said conservative candidates must “learn from the mistakes of the last few election cycles” in which a moderate Republican won the nomination because the conservative wing of the GOP couldn’t rally behind one candidate.
“History will repeat itself if we don't learn from the past,” the former Arkansas governor said. “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.”
Since the tradition began in 1979, only one candidate won the straw poll, caucus and the presidency: George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000. “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,” Huckabee said. “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.”
He added that the Iowa Straw Poll’s benefits don’t outweigh its costs.
“I appreciate the Iowa GOP for recognizing the need for some reforms, but playing to win in the straw poll still requires a heavy concentration of staff and financial resources,” he said. Some of those recent reforms include lowering the ticket prices for the straw poll and doing away with having campaigns bid for the biggest tent space at the straw poll, which doubles as a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party.