The Ames Straw Poll, Not What It Used to Be

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Romney, Not Taking Aim At Ames

Ames will be missing one familiar face this year: “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Thursday that he’d be skipping the influential August straw poll of potential Iowa caucusgoers.  Romney, who won the 2007 straw poll, announced through his campaign that he would skip the Ames Straw Poll this cycle, underscoring his more intense focus on the New Hampshire primary and other nominating contests. ‘Our campaign has made the decision to not participate in any straw polls, whether it’s in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else. We respect the straw poll process,” said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “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. We look forward to bringing Mitt Romney’s strong pro-jobs message to every part of the country.’”

At Politico, Ben Smith surmises that Romney’s announcement was timed to bet lost in the Newt cacophony: “A raft of statements just crossed the transom on Mitt Romney’s decision to pass on the Ames straw poll, as Romney seeks to downplay the event — and the state of Iowa — and Pawlenty seeks to make it a crucial test. Keeping just one foot in Iowa worked terribly for Hillary Clinton last cycle; but the Republican caucuses don’t have the traditional weight of the Democratic ones, something on which Romney’s careful calculation depends…The notion that cost drove Romney’s decision is fairly hard to believe.”

Hey, he’s, uh, just being fiscally conservative.

At Hot Air, Allahpundit tries to wargame the scenarios several moves ahead: “He spent a boatload of money trying to win the straw poll three years ago, and succeeded — before going on to lose the caucuses to Huckabee. Can’t blame him for not wanting to make the same mistake twice, but given the perceived snub to Iowa voters, he’s all but writing off the state now. (So is Huntsman, who’d otherwise share Romney’s Iowa predicament of being a Mormon candidate facing an evangelical electorate.) His strategy is straightforward: Since he probably won’t win anyway, he’ll keep a light footprint there and then spin his eventual defeat as due to lack of effort. The risk is that, with Huntsman not competing there either, the “centrist” part of the field has now essentially been ceded to his chief rival, Tim Pawlenty. Romney’s counting on Palin, Bachmann, Cain, or Perry to catch fire and win the caucuses, which would cripple T-Paw ahead of New Hampshire by denying him the big victory he needs as a springboard. If it works out that way, Mitt’s golden — but if it doesn’t, and Pawlenty ends up winning by combining the centrist vote with grassroots conservatives looking for an “electable” alternative to Romney, then suddenly he’s a major threat to pull the upset in New Hampshire too, which would leave Mitt dead on arrival. It’s still probably a gamble worth taking just because, if Romney ran hard in Iowa and flamed out, the media would go nuts over it for weeks afterward, but they might go nuts over it anyway if he finishes embarrassingly poorly anyway. Which, considering how “personally” Iowans take snubs like this, might happen. He’s handing Pawlenty a prized opportunity.”

Er, but maybe the argument is that over time, Ames means less – if it ever really meant that much at all. A reader wrote to me back in 2007, “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.)”

Doug Mataconis, writing at Outside the Beltway: “Back in January, there was talk that Romney may skip Iowa altogether, or at least run nothing more than a low-key campaign there. Considering that the state is dominated by social conservatives, that may be a wise choice on his part.”

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