Romney to skip Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll
With Jon Huntsman being a non-starter in the state, Newt Gingrich’s implosion and Mitt Romney announcing that he will skip the Ames Straw Poll in August, some are beginning to question Iowa’s importance in the quest for the Republican nomination in 2012, as noted by The New York Times:
For decades, Iowa has served as the official kickoff for the presidential campaign, providing the first real test for candidates hoping to win their way to the White House.
But there are signs that its influence on the nominating process could be ebbing and that the nature of the voters who tend to turn out for the Republican caucuses — a heavy concentration of evangelical Christians and ideological conservatives overlaid with parochial interests — is discouraging some candidates from competing there.
Mr. Romney’s decision, in particular, suggests that candidates who are viewed suspiciously by the state’s religious conservatives may stand little chance there. Mr. Romney, who was once a pro-choice governor and passed a health care plan that served as the inspiration for President Obama’s, has struggled in Iowa for years.
Some of the state’s Republicans had already been wringing their hands about the outsize influence of the state’s religious conservatives.
“If Iowa becomes some extraneous right-wing outpost, you have to question whether it is going to be a good place to vet your presidential candidates,” Doug Gross, a Republican activist from Iowa, told The New York Times this year.
Romney’s decision is completely understandable. After all, he spent over $1 million on Ames in 2007 and was burned. However, The Times does point out that Romney’s absence does provide an avenue for second-tier candidates to gain some momentum; perhaps even the opportunity to move up and considered a real contender and that it’s Tim Pawlenty’s best chance to really compete for the nomination:
[T]he Iowa caucuses now seem more likely to become an opportunity for one of the several lesser-known Republican candidates who are trying to cut through the campaign clutter and are counting on their appeal to the conservative Tea Party movement.
The Iowa Tea Party this week announced a three-week bus tour through the state that will feature appearances by several hopefuls, including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania. Mr. Gingrich was listed as a possible participant in a schedule distributed before the departure of his top aides on Thursday.
And Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of neighboring Minnesota, has made it clear that he is pinning his presidential hopes on winning the caucuses as a way to vault him to the front of the pack as the campaign heads into New Hampshire next year.
Over at The American Spectator, Jim Antle also notes the importance of Iowa for Pawlenty, where he’ll no doubt be spending a lot of time for the next two months:
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. 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.
The latest poll out of Iowa shows Pawlenty gaining some ground in Iowa, but he is still behind Romney, Cain, Palin (assuming she runs), Gingrich (pre-implosion) and Bachmann. We’ll have more on Pawlenty a bit later.