WASHINGTON – R.I.P., Iowa Straw Poll. Badly wounded in 2011, it was lethally wounded Thursday.
Mike Huckabee announced he won’t compete this year. Neither will Jeb Bush. So far, no one except Donald Trump has committed to participating — if he runs.
For years, the circuslike summer event served mainly as a test of how much money candidates for the GOP nomination would spend to buy tickets for attendees, on buses to get them there, and on barbecue and music to entertain them so they would support them in a nonbinding “poll.”
And the Democrats, who ban all straw polls as a waste of time and money, have managed to win the White House in four of the last six elections without them.
Huckabee’s decision to bypass the straw poll this August has the feel of all those festive balloons in the tent deflating in unison.
Here are five reasons the straw poll does not matter:
• The results don’t matter the next day. Michele Bachmann, then a congresswoman from Minnesota, beat Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty in 2011. Within a day, though, she was overshadowed by Rick Perry’s entry into the race and Pawlenty’s withdrawal. She wound up a distant sixth in the 2012 Iowa caucus.
• Money people don’t care. The star of the 1999 caucus was Elizabeth Dole, who surprisingly finished third. She boasted how her “invisible army” was mobilizing. It stayed invisible. She couldn’t keep up with George W. Bush’s financial resources, and two months later she was out.
• Star power and freebies can’t buy you love. Former Vice President Dan Quayle provided entertainment from country music stars in 1999, while Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah walked around the grounds with singer Vic Damone and basketball great Karl Malone. Quayle finished eighth. Hatch was ninth. Then again, Bush did have Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach at his tent.
• Winners don’t win the big prize. Since the first contested straw poll, only once — Bush in 1999 — has the winner gone on to win the White House that election. Some candidates did get boosts, notably Bush’s father in 1979 and Pat Robertson in 1987. George H.W. Bush was elected president in 1988, but that was after he lost the straw poll.
• Democrats don’t care. They neither have nor want straw polls. Why should they? The party has won four of the last six presidential elections. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were hardly the favorites to win their party’s nominations in the August before the election year, and they did just fine.