The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Will Some Candidate Regret Skipping the Ames Straw Poll? (UPDATED)


So it looks like the Ames straw poll will turn into a Romney rally.

I realize skipping Ames isn’t the same as skipping Iowa entirely, but I can’t help but wonder if this will give Romney a leg up for participating in one of the big early political events in the state.

And I want to turn the wayback machine to 2000: Governor George W. Bush wins Iowa big over Forbes, Bauer, (Gary, not Jack), Alan Keyes, etc. McCain skipped it, and finished with 4.6 percent. Bush then moves to New Hampshire, where McCain beats him like a drum, an 18 percentage point blowout. The Big Two go into South Carolina with each one having one big win under their belts.

If McCain had stayed in Iowa, and either performed okay (lets say, third or fourth place, double digit support) or, if he had won Iowa, wouldn’t New Hampshire have been the effective end of the Bush campaign? Could the much-hyped frontrunner have been revealed to have a glass jaw, and have been written off after going 0 for 2 in the first two primaries?

With the compressed primary schedule, I suspect that anyone in either party who wins both Iowa and New Hampshire will have enough good press and momentum to do well in the Super-Duper-Tuesday, and from there to the nomination.

UPDATE: Hillary Spot reader William writes in, with a compelling counter-argument:

As someone who worked on the Gramm presidential campaign, I can say winning the Iowa staw poll doesn’t mean squat.  I know it happens every cycle — pundits and people who love politics inflate false events because there’s nothing else to do and then the people vote.  But, only one of those events matters.  (As I am sure you remember, Gramm tied Dole in the straw poll and then was rewarded with a fifth place finish in the actual voting.)

I agree it doesn’t look good for the other candidates and not participating at all may mean some real structural problems.  But do you really thing Giuliani isn’t going to compete with Romney all over the country because he’s not participating in some barbeque and busing in supporters from outside the state?  Doesn’t the compressed, earlier voting matter more than what some Iowans and college students getting a free bus ride and a meal do at a fundraiser?

Fair enough. But I would contend that Iowans are fiercely, even furiously protective of their role as the first major contest. They demand gestures of respect more frequently and loudly than Don Corleone. (Or, I suppose I should say, Phil Leotardo.) While the famous “YEARRGH” scream is remembered for killing Howard Dean’s chances, his campaign first hit serious turbulence when someone found old television footage of him poo-pooing the Iowa caucuses.

On the program, Dean said: “If you look at the caucuses system, they are dominated by the special interests, in both sides, in both parties. The special interests don’t represent the centrist tendencies of the American people. They represent the extremes.”

The disclosure came at an awkward time for front-runner Dean, with the race tightening and the caucuses less than 10 days away on Jan. 19. Polls show Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt in a fierce fight for the caucuses, with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry running a close third.

Skipping Ames all by itself won’t put Iowa caucusgoers into a snit about any particular candidate. But if Rudy, McCain or Thompson irritate Iowans in some other way (say, by acknowledging that ethanol isn’t that great for the environment), that will be strike two. If Romney puts his foot in his mouth (“Golly, I can’t stand the taste of corn!”) he’ll always be able to say, “Hey, I was here asking for your vote when all these other guys would rather be somewhere else.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


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