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Steve King Is Making Iowa Events Irrelevant — Is That Why Jeb Bush Is Skipping The Straw Poll?

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Yesterday, the Des Moines Register reported that likely 2016 Presidential candidate Jeb Bush will skip this year’s Iowa Straw Poll, which is hosted before every Presidential election by the Republican Party of Iowa.

“Bush, a former Florida governor, is the first well-known Republican in the 2016 presidential field to officially opt out of the straw poll, a nationally renowned event that has drawn significant criticism over the years,” reported the Des Moines Register.

This year’s straw poll will be held in Steve King’s district, who is perhaps best known as Congress’s most extreme anti-immigrant hardliner, and is sure to have a heavy hand in the event.

Bush will instead attend a gathering organized by conservative news site RedState in Atlanta.

Bush’s decision to not attend the straw poll drew the ire of the Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, who tweeted his frustration at the candidate.

However, as AV’s Matt Hildreth (and Iowa resident) noted on Twitter yesterday, “it’s been over 15 years since the Iowa GOP picked a Presidential candidate.”

The winner of the last Iowa Straw Poll was former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in 2011, who went on to lose the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney (who then went on to lose to incumbent Barack Obama).

Mitt Romney won 2007’s Straw Poll, but he also went on to lose the Republican nomination to John McCain (who also went on to lose to then-Senator Barack Obama).

The year after Bachmann’s 2007 victory, even Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad noted, “I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness. It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over.”

In a widely-read op-ed published in the Des Moines Register, Hildreth noted that Steve King’s toxic brand has — perhaps irreparably — damaged Iowa’s Republican Party, particularly the Straw Poll event:

King’s strategy is to use his small but loyal following in Iowa to force moderate Republican presidential candidates to the right — especially when it comes to immigration.

In 2012, King was successful when, on the eve of the 2012 Iowa Caucus, Romney visited King’s district and told a small crowd gathered at the Family Table Restaurant that he would veto the DREAM Act if elected president in an attempt to pull conservative caucus-goers away from Santorum.

Not only was his last minute pander not enough to win Iowa (Romney lost Iowa by 34 votes), but his promise to veto the DREAM Act — a bill supported by 90 percent of the Latino community — cost him big in the general election. Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent, a lower percentage than Republican candidates have received in the last three elections. Latinos also made up 10 percent of the electorate in 2012 for the first time ever and helped Obama win in key battleground states.

Now leading Republicans are encouraging their candidates to avoid King and Iowa all together. Recently Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona suggested: “Often we [Republicans] spend so much time trying to win Iowa we can’t win the rest of the states. Frankly a lot of Republicans appreciate those who come there and say, I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with Steve King.”

Even the Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa has expressed his own frustration with King, tweeting his disapproval after King called a DREAMer — invited to this year’s State of the Union by the First Lady — a “deportable”:

Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, groaned when told of the Twitter missive. “Did he say ‘deportable’?” he asked in an interview. Pausing, he said, “I don’t believe the word ‘deportable’ is a particularly helpful term to use.”

In his op-ed, Hildreth predicted King’s extremism would cause serious candidates to skip Iowa events altogether. Now with Jeb Bush avoiding the Iowa Straw Poll, who knows how many more serious Republican candidates who have their eyes set on winning a general election will follow his lead.

Read Hildreth’s complete op-ed here.