By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 6:06 PM
PORTSMOUTH, N.H., June 6 -- Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) announced Wednesday that they will not compete in the first real contest of the 2008 presidential campaign, the nonbinding Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August.
In a conference call with reporters, Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime said the campaign still will participate in the Iowa Republican caucuses, which currently are scheduled for January. He said the campaign will use the money it would have spent in Ames this summer to campaign more effectively later in the year, when it counts.
"We are 100 percent committed to winning the Iowa caucuses in January," DuHaime said. "We are going to take all the resources that were budgeted and use them to [to win the caucuses]. The best way to do that is to dedicate those resources to the caucus."
The McCain campaign announced plans to skip the Ames straw poll after the Giuliani news. McCain campaign manager Terry Nelson said in a statement that "in light of today's news, it is clear that the Ames straw poll will not be a meaningful test of the leading candidates' organizational abilities."
Giuliani had signaled earlier that he might not participate in the straw poll, which demands a massive organizational effort by campaigns. More than 50,000 people are expected to show up at the convention center there, and the candidate best able to cajole his supporters to the event will win.
DuHaime said that could take as much as $3 million and a large investment of time and other resources. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the leading fundraiser on the Republican side, is investing heavily in the contest.
The decision by Giuliani, who leads the GOP field in opinion polls, and McCain is likely to sharply reduce the influence of the straw poll, which traditionally has winnowed the Republican field in the months before the primary season begins in earnest. Democrats do not have an equivalent straw poll in the summer.
Actor and former GOP senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, who is exploring a presidential bid, has not said whether he will participate in the straw poll. But his decision to delay his entry into the race until later this summer is said by some advisers to be an indication that he will not.
That would leave Romney and several of the lesser-known candidates in the contest.
Former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, who is a Giuliani adviser, said the August contest will remain important for what he called "second tier" candidates looking for attention and money.
"That's the one thing that at least with Rudy Giuliani is not necessary," he said.
Giuliani is likely to face questions about whether he can win the Iowa caucus. In recent polls in the state, he comes in a close third behind Romney and McCain. He has hired fewer staff in the state, though DuHaime said Wednesday that the campaign will soon begin moving more people there.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said his candidate is "going to keep traveling across Iowa and will continue to work hard to grow our campaign organization there."
"As for campaigns that decide to skip Ames," Madden said, "it has probably become clear to them that Iowa voters want to see conservative change in Washington, and if a candidate stands before the voters of Iowa without a conservative record or a conservative message, it makes it very hard for them to compete for support there."