According to recent campaign polls, Mitt Romney is at the top of the pack of Republicans seeking to replace President Obama. Despite his frontrunner status, the Romney campaign has elected not to compete in any GOP straw polls, including Iowa.
“Our campaign has made the decision to not participate in any straw polls, whether it’s in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else,” said Matt Rhoades in a written statement. "We respect the straw poll process. 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.”
Four years ago, Romney had a different view when addressing the importance of the Iowa straw poll.
“If you’re going to participate in the Iowa process, then you better get in the straw poll,” said Romney in 2007.
Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa, was obviously disappointed. “I’ll leave it to the pundits and voters to assess the wisdom of skipping an event of tremendous importance to tens of thousand of Iowa Republican caucus goers.”
Romney’s opponents, including Tim Pawlenty’s team, wasted little time in responding.
“The Ames straw poll is a great gathering of conservatives, and Governor Pawlenty’s solid record will be well received there,” said Matt Whitaker, a key volunteer in Iowa. “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.”
The Wall Street Journal first reported Romney’s decision to avoid the straw polls yesterday after Romney’s aides leaked the decision, putting the Romney campaign on the defensive.
“The campaign is making a smart decision to not compete in the upcoming series of straw polls. Mitt’s focus is on winning the nomination, not the straw polls. Mitt will be back in Iowa this summer and will participate in the Ames debate,” said Brian Kennedy, a former Iowa GOP chair and current Romney supporter.
Straw polls, unlike caucuses and primaries, are challenging to win and rely on a well-organized grassroots campaign. Some pundits suggest the heavy base of social conservatives is a factor in the Romney decision.
Moreover, the news of Newt Gingrich’s senior staff leaving in mass combined with the Romney announcement opens the field to recruit key grassroots supporters and operatives, especially for candidates considering a late entry like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.
Senator John McCain, who was the 2008 Republican Presidential nominee, skipped the Ames straw poll and placed a distance third in the February caucuses, prior to winning the nomination.
According to election day surveys taken in 2008, 60 percent of Iowa caucus attendees call themselves evangelical or born-again Christians, compared to 23 percent in New Hampshire.