The August gathering put on by the conservative RedState blog in Atlanta is turning into a certified 2016 Republican presidential cattle call -- and an attempt to knock the famed Iowa straw poll down a peg.
Erick Erickson, the WSB Radio host and founder of RedState, revealed today that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and businesswoman Carly Fiorina will address the crowd of activists Aug. 7-8.
In addition, Erickson said, he has invited U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but they have not confirmed whether they will join the fun.
Rubio, Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will address the Georgia GOP this weekend, but the August confab will be Georgia's biggest moment yet in the 2016 sun.
Erickson said the audience will get to question the candidates and he wants them to offer a vision beyond "Obama bashing:"
Though I am loathe to ever suggest a topic for speakers, I have asked each of the 2016 candidates to focus on one thing: if they become President, their re-election would be in 2020. I’d like them to present their 2020 vision for what the nation should look like after their first four years. We do not need Obama bashing. We need to know what they would do differently and how they would shape the nation. They should be elected not on their ability to bash the opposition, but their ability to sell a vision for the future that resonances with the base and the nation as a whole. We do not, right now, need a 50 point plan. We need to know what they see as the areas that need fixing and how their fixes will reshape the country.
The event will also challenge the Iowa straw poll for attention from pols and the press. The circus-like test of organizational might will be held at the state fair on Aug. 8 and usually attracts a huge crowd of hopefuls. But Michele Bachmann's 2011 straw poll victory marred its legitimacy as a predictor for the caucuses.
Craig Robinson, a former Iowa state party political director, writes in The Iowa Republican that in theory a candidate could attend both events, but it would be logistically difficult:
No matter how you slice it, the fact that Erickson already has commitments from five presidential candidates is a bit of a concern. In 2011, Rick Perry officially announced his candidacy from the RedState Gathering, which was being held in South Carolina. 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. ...
Even though the hot days of August still seem to be a long way off, the Iowa GOP will need to start getting candidates confirmed to participate in the Straw Poll. It’s a daunting task with announced candidates, let alone with someone who isn’t officially in the race yet. Thus far, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has said that he intends to participate in the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll, but everyone else is essentially a question mark.
In the past, avoiding the Straw Poll would have made a candidate persona non grata in Iowa, but times are much different today than they were four or eight years ago. Governor Terry Branstad has said that the event has “outlived its usefulness,” and while he backs the Party’s desire to have the event, the criticism the event has received in recent years has damaged its credibility.
Another scheduling note: The candidates will start showing up in Atlanta the day after the first Republican presidential debate, scheduled for Aug. 6 in Cleveland.