Two of the three top-tier GOP presidential candidates — Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney — have announced they won’t actively participate in Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll next month, and the third, Rick Perry, is still undecided. But that’s no reason to write off the results of the poll.
First off, the Florida Republican party’s Presidency series is no Ames. It is trickier in Florida to dominate the poll with one candidate’s fans: All the 3,500 delegates who vote in the Florida straw poll pay their own conference fees — whereas in Ames, campaigns are allowed to offer free tickets and transportation to lure delegates. Also, in Iowa, it is up to individuals to decide whether to attend, whereas in Florida each county is allotted a certain number of delegates, based on that county’s Republican population, and three-quarters of each county’s delegates are chosen by lottery (the other quarter are chosen by a county GOP committee). In Florida, for a candidate to participate, all he or she has to do is give a speech to the delegates the day of the straw poll. There is no participation fee or anything equivalent to the Ames tent and entertainment demands. And regardless of whether a candidate officially participates or not, all major candidates will be listed on the ballot.
There is another key difference from Ames: the predictive quality of the results. The Florida straw poll has been held three times so far — in 1979, 1987, and 1995 (there was no Presidency event in 1999, and Presidency 4, in 2007, was just a debate, without the straw poll). In each of the three, the winner went on to win Florida’s primary and the GOP nomination (and the first two, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, won the presidency, though Bob Dole fell short). In contrast, only three of the five Ames winners have won the Iowa caucuses and only two have won the GOP nomination –Bob Dole and George W. Bush, with only Bush winning the presidency.
The Romney campaign announced back in June that it would not participate in any straw polls this cycle. Campaign manager Matt Rhoades issued a statement saying that the campaign “respect[s] the straw poll process” but “will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses.”
Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart told Politico that the Bachmann campaign had been concentrating on debate preparation and winning Ames. “We are just now at the point where we can focus on building a team in the critical state of Florida,” Stewart said.
As for the other candidates, Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller says, “P5 is a great event, and we’ll be participating at the same level as the rest of the field,” although Miller adds, “Our primary focus is, as it should be, on winning real votes in primaries.” Ron Paul spokesman Gary Howard said Paul would be on the ballot, but he added that the campaign would not be fighting aggressively for votes. “It is definitely a casual participation for us . . . It seems to be more of a party insiders’ thing,” Howard says.
Herman Cain is also confirmed to participate, according to the Florida GOP. The Perry campaign has not yet decided whether to participate. The Santorum and Gingrich campaigns did not respond to NRO’s requests for comment.