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Mitt Romney, the Ames Straw Poll and 2012

at 06:30 AM ET, 06/10/2011

Mitt Romney’s decision to skip this summer’s Ames Straw Poll not only has major implications in the Iowa caucuses but is also a telling indication of the drastically different approach that the former Massachusetts governor is taking to his second bid for president.

On its face, Romney’s decision to skip Ames almost certainly means he will also be de-emphazing the Iowa caucuses since the straw poll has long been seen as a must-do for any candidate hoping to successfully court the state’s voters.

While Romney’s Iowa team insisted he would continue to visit the state and would appear at the Ames debate sponsored by Fox News Channel on Aug. 11, his decision isn’t likely to win him any support in the Hawkeye State.

“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 caucus-goers,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn in a not-so-veiled assessment of Romney’s decision.

With Romney downplaying Iowa, former Utah governor Jon Huntman Jr. skipping the caucuses altogether and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s campaign in free fall, the field — both at the Ames straw poll and in the statewide 2012 caucuses — is wide open, with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) emerging as potential frontrunners.

“There should be a real expectation of a very strong straw poll finish for Pawlenty,” said a senior Iowa Republican operative granted anonymity to candidly assess the field. “A win, and he becomes the favorite to win Iowa and boost national fundraising as a Romney alternative.” (Of course, with Romney vacating the field, a Pawlenty loss in Ames likely takes on more importance too.)

Another GOP operative based in Iowa offered an alternate take on Romney’s decision, insisting that by skipping the straw poll, the former Massachusetts governor is effectively lowering expectations in a place where he’s not likely to win anyway.

“Any finish in the caucus is above what he’ll do in the straw poll,” said the source, noting that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) skipped the straw poll in 2007, finished third in the 2008 caucuses and got a “nice little bump” heading into the New Hampshire primary.

While there’s considerable debate about whether Romney’s decision to skip Ames is sound, there’s no question that it’s in keeping with the very different approach he is taking to this race, as compared to the last time.

In his 2008 campaign, Romney spent heavily in the summer of 2007 to win the straw poll. Despite that organizational victory, he watched as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee shot past him to win the Iowa caucuses.

Romney’s straw poll approach was indicative of the everywhere-all-of-the-time strategy he used in the 2008 race. And it’s the exact opposite of what he’s doing this time around, choosing to pick his fights and set the pace of the race rather than have it dictated to him.

“In the last presidential campaign, we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them,” said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses.”

Romney’s Ames decision makes clear that he is going to win or lose the race on his own terms this time around. We won’t know for another nine months — or more — whether he’s made the right choices.

The Gingrich fallout: If people were counting Newt Gingrich out before Thursday, they were definitely doing it after his senior staff left en masse late in the day.

A rough start to his campaign already had people calling into question the former House speaker’s seriousness as a candidate. Now analysts are effectively writing the obituary for Gingrich’s campaign.

In a sense, that’s fair. The first few weeks of a campaign are not supposed to be this rough, and even before he announced his campaign, Gingrich tripped over his feet repeatedly on issues like Libya.

But if Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 campaign taught us anything, it’s that crazy things can happen. And given the topsy-turvy picture of the GOP presidential field, it’s hard to count out politicians who have proven themselves to be capable — even if it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that from Gingrich.

For his part, Gingrich says the campaign goes on, and he’s still got at least some staff on board. Spokesman Joe DeSantis said he will stay on board, though he declined to say who else was still with the campaign.

Weiner’s constituents want him to stay: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has the support of his district to continue as its congressman.

Despite a personal sex scandal which he lied repeatedly about, Weiner’s constituents aren’t ready to kick Weiner to the curb. A new Marist College poll shows 56 percent of Weiner’s constituents want him to stay, while 33 percent want him to resign.

If he seeks reelection, Weiner could be on shakier ground, though. Just 30 percent of his constituents say they will definitely vote for him, while 31 percent say they will definitely vote against him. Another 38 percent are open-minded. His unfavorable rating (42 percent) is also higher than his favorable rating (38 percent).

Fixbits:

A new poll of the Kentucky governor’s race shows Gov. Steve Beshear (D) opening a 21-point lead on Republican state Sen. David Williams .

Former Gingrich national chairman and former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue is joining Pawlenty’s national leadership team.

Many Republicans doubt that Gingrich has the temperament to be president.

Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) is looking at a run for Congress, but is waiting for redistricting to see what district.

Rudy Giuliani’s people say it’s too early to count him as a candidate for president.

Rick Santorum calls climate change “junk science.”

23-year-old GOP consultant Kelly Eustis is considering a run against Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.). Eustis will turn 25 — the minimum age for a member of the House — before the 2012 election.

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s (D) retrial is in the hands of the jury.

Federal judges say Maine, the one state the has generally put off redistricting until the year ending in “3,” must complete the process by the 2012 election. It’s not clear why Maine has been allowed to delay the process in the past.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) top spokesman, Jon Summers, is departing.

Disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sits down with Fox News.

Attorney Andy Barr (R) will make it a second straight run against Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.).

Must-reads:

Va. Senate adopts Democrats’ congressional map, setting up clash with GOP House” — Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post

 
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