Romney’s skipping this summer’s Straw Poll

The Wall Street Journal is reporting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney plans to “skip” the 2011 Iowa GOP Straw Poll in Ames this August.  He follows in the footsteps of John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both of whom chose not to participate in the event in 2007.

The 1987 Iowa GOP Straw Poll was won by Pat Robertson and a signal of the difficulties then-Vice President George H.W. Bush would face in the 1988 Iowa Caucuses.  (In case you don’t remember, “41” did not win the Iowa Caucuses that year.  Bush came in third, behind Bob Dole and Robertson.  However, George H.W. Bush won the 1980 Iowa Caucuses, a surprise victory over eventual-nominee Ronald Reagan.)

Bush’s son, George W. Bush, went “whole hog” for the 1999 Straw Poll in Ames, spending tons on food, entertainment and tickets — a show of force to the rest of the field in that early test.  Romney himself won the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll, but it did not translate into an Iowa Caucus victory on January 3, 2008.

Iowa Republican Party officials consider the Straw Poll a big fundraising opportunity for the party and a measure of the on-the-ground organizational strength of the campaigns.  A campaign that can turn out Straw Poll voters on a hot August day in Ames is considered capable to doing the same on a cold day in January in precinct meetings throughout the state.

However, the Iowa Democratic Party hosts a similar event and there is no Straw Poll at the party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day banquet.  Even without that “straw poll” measure, the trajectory of successful and unsuccessful presidential campaigns can be traced based on the performances at that event.  The 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Day speech Barack Obama delivered was considered a key turning point in that campaign cycle.  The event showcased the ability of Obama’s Iowa campaign staff to mobilize people, as his cheering section that night “out-cheered”  the rest.

The 2003 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner was a crucial turning point in John Kerry’s campaign.  The 1999 JJ event was the unmasking of the “stand and fight” Al Gore who roamed the stage and pumped his fists as his people in the crowd cheered, in marked contrast to competitor Bill Bradley, who donned reading glasses to deliver his speech.

Enough about the past.  The Pawlenty campaign has been the most aggressive tonight in responding to the Romney story in the WSJ.

Statement from Pawlenty for President Iowa Steering Committee Chairman Matt Whitaker

“I joined Governor Pawlenty’s campaign because I knew he could put his record before voters everywhere. The Ames straw poll is a great gathering of conservatives, and Governor Pawlenty’s solid record will be well received there. I look forward to joining thousands of Iowans in casting my vote for Governor Pawlenty in Ames this summer and in the caucuses this winter.”

And here’s what the Iowa GOP has to say about Romney’s decision.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn issued the statement below following Governor Romney’s announcement that he will not participate in the the Ames Straw Poll.

“I’ll leave it to the pundits and voters to assess the wisdom of skipping an event of tremendous importance to tens of thousands of Iowa Republicans and caucusgoers.”

“More than ever, Iowa Republicans are energized and motivated to utilize the Ames Straw Poll as a catalyst toward building a 99-county organization to deny President Obama a second term.”

“I’m encouraged that this grassroots energy, combined with the need for other Presidential campaigns to demonstrate their organizational strength and support, will lead to a very successful Ames Straw Poll in August.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.