The Iowa Straw Poll in August in Ames, Iowa is traditionally the unofficial kickoff of any primary election campaign for president and it allows Iowa residents their first opportunity to weigh in on the state of the presidential field before the caucus votes the year following.
The Ames poll is often seen as the first test of presidential campaigns and their ability to rally and mobilize voters to their side. Almost every presidential election cycle, at least one candidate drops out of the race following the Ames straw poll because the campaign has not been able to attract voters.
This time, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says he will not participate in the straw poll and he appears to be focusing more attention on New Hampshire, the site of the first primary vote and the second presidential primary battleground state. Located in his backyard, and with numerous Massachusetts residents having moved there or taken up second homes in the Granite State, Romney has a sizable lead there and he plans to turn a victory in New Hampshire into a bid to run the tables in the next battleground states.
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades says that not only is Romney not participating in the Ames, Iowa straw poll, he’s not going to participate in other lesser-important straw polls in other states. The governor spent more than $1 million four years ago to win the event, only to lose the caucus vote months later. Skipping it would allow him to marshal time and money elsewhere.
“Our campaign has made the decision to not participate in any straw polls, whether it’s in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else,” he told the Washington Post. “We respect the straw poll process. In the last presidential campaign, we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them. This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses.”
Eric Woolson, a senior advisor for the campaign of former Governor Tim Pawlenty, told the Post that gives his candidate an opening to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll.
“I’m certainly not privy to the Romney strategy, but he and his campaign staff have clearly shown they believe the straw poll is not important and that he can win Iowa without participating in it,” he said. “We’ll know on Feb. 6 if they are right or wrong.”
Woolson told the newspaper the Pawlenty campaign is making Iowa a key priority.
“I believe he has been in the state 14 times since the start of 2009. We have a campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, political director, coalitions director and 10 field representatives on the full-time staff. There are five senior advisers, folks like me, who are here in Iowa, too,” he said.
Iowa is a state with Republican voters who are strongly pro-life and social conservative candidates like Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus vote in 2008, do well there. With Pawlenty’s solid pro-life record making him attractive to Iowa voters, and with other strongly pro-life candidates like Rick Santorum and Herman Cain actively contesting the state, Romney may find himself following the nomination path of John McCain. The senator used a victory in New Hampshire, where Republicans are more moderate, to propel himself to victory in South Carolina and Florida.
Romney will need to win those two additional states to secure the nomination as his efforts to find victory by way of winning early states like Nevada and Michigan, where there is less media focus and where other candidates did not compete, did not help him win the nomination.
James Antle of the American Spectator talks about the ramifications of Romney’s decision.
“Mitt Romney is effectively skipping the Ames straw poll, suggesting that he is going to deemphasize the Iowa caucuses next year. When Romney lost Iowa in an upset to Mike Huckabee in 2008, it was a major hit to his campaign. Now that Newt Gingrich’s entire Iowa team has resigned, it has raised questions about how important Iowa is going to be this time around,” he said.
“But Iowa may still have a significant role, especially if the field remains more or less where it is now. Iowa will be Tim Pawlenty’s best shot to establish himself as the main alternative to Romney. If he wins the caucuses — or performs very strongly despite his anti-ethanol subsidy stance — his path to the nomination begins to come together,” Antle added. “If Pawlenty doesn’t catch fire and he finishes behind candidates like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul, it is much harder to see how he moves into the top tier.”