The Straw Poll Agony Intensifies

One small but strategic point I’d add to David Atkins’ report on the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll’s Republican findings: the longer Scott Walker is perceived as the early Iowa front-runner, the more Iowan GOPers will look to him to save the state party’s endangered August 8 Straw Poll event by participating. That was actually the big takeway from the poll by The Iowa Republican‘s Craig Robinson:

While the polls suggest that Walker appears to be solidifying himself as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, the Republican Party of Iowa’s quadrennial presidential straw poll is making life difficult. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio have each publically stated that they will not be participating in the event, but the rest of the field is in the midst of a staring contest.

The pressure is on Walker to participate. If Walker plays in the event, it’s easy to see how the Republican Party of Iowa salvages the event despite the national media’s desire to see the event come to an end. If Walker joins those who pass on participating in the 2015 Straw Poll, the event will essentially be dead.

The question for Walker is, how confident is he about his Iowa prospects?

As a neighboring governor who is currently atop of Iowa and national polls, one would think that Walker’s campaign may be eager to cement it’s frontrunner status. The problem is that early poll numbers indicate interest in particular candidates, not necessarily organizational strength. This means that, Walker currently has advantages over the field, a Straw Poll victory is not a certainty.

Over at the Washington Tiimes, Ralph Hallow suggests that if Walker skips the event and is, as expected, followed by Rand Paul, then either the event will fold or perhaps Ted Cruz could swoop in and win. That, too, would have strategic consequences for Walker, who presumably hopes for as little serious conservative competition in Iowa as possible. Another factor, of course, is that any of the higher-ranking candidates who decided to go all in for the Straw Poll would have an advantage over marginal candidates who are struggling to keep their national polls high enough to qualify for the August 6 debate on Fox News.

The more I stare at it, the more it makes sense for Ted Cruz to be the guy to break the logjam and commit to Boone. Maybe he’ll scare off Walker and Paul and position himself to crush the right-wing polling marginals (Perry, Santorum and Jindal) and begin consolidating the conservative vote over the autumn. Yes, he could lose–even if all the above takes place, Ben Carson is a Straw Poll natural–but at some point Cruz has to make a move or confirm suspicions that he’s another Texan who’s all hat and no cattle when it comes to turning rhetoric into votes.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.