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Giuliani, McCain Skipping Ames Straw Poll

The news that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will not participate in the Ames, Iowa, GOP straw poll this August virtually ensures that an event once viewed as a key step to winning the Republican nomination will be essentially meaningless.

Both McCain and Giuliani announced their decision to step out of the straw poll today. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who is expected to formally join the race in the coming months, has long been expected to skip Ames.

With three out of the four frontrunning candidates likely bypassing the straw poll (only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains committed to it), the ultimate results will carry nearly no significance. It also sets up a break with tradition, as no candidate in the past three decades who has skipped the straw poll has gone on to win the Iowa caucuses.

Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime called it a "resource allocation decision." He estimated that mounting a serious straw poll campaign would have cost nearly $3 million, money they feel would be better spent on efforts to win the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 14. That, DuHaime assured, is Giuliani's intention: "We are 100 percent playing in Iowa. You will see the mayor there early and often."

McCain's camp announced their decision after the Giuliani news was reported earlier today. "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, so we have decided to forgo our participation in the event," said McCain campaign manager Terry Nelson in a statement. (Nelson, it's worth noting, is an Iowa native and came up through the ranks of the Iowa Republican Party.)

McCain's decision -- much like Giuliani's -- is almost assuredly about money. McCain struggled to raise money in the first quarter of 2007 and with the pricetag to compete and win in Ames estimated in the millions of dollars, the strategists around the Arizona senator likely decided it simply wasn't worth the investment.

If three of the four frontrunners don't participate, it seems like a waste of resources for Romney to play heavily. Of course, a big straw poll win might help build his reputation as the frontrunner for the state's caucuses. But without any of his major opponents participating, it could also be a hollow win with little bounce for Romney.

Today's developments beg the question: Historically, how important is the straw poll? Let's check the most recent contests without a Republican incumbent:

In 1999, most of the major Republican candidates for the nomination participated. George W. Bush's win cemented him as the Republican frontrunner while Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) sixth-place showing was the beginning of the end of his candidacy.

McCain, on the other hand, did not participate in the 1999 straw poll or the 2000 Iowa caucuses, but wound up as Bush's main rival in the 2000 race.

Four years earlier, Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) were the top finishers in the straw poll. Dole went on to win the caucuses and the nomination, while Gramm lost momentum, posting a fifth-place finish in the caucuses that led to his early exit.

So winning was good for Dole and Bush, but opting out didn't appear to dim McCain's chances in 2000.

At the very least, the straw poll will make its quadrennial contribution to political theater.

As Alexander strategist Mike Murphy (currently unaligned in the 2008 contest) observed in 1995: "The straw poll is a bit like a chess championship at a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It's something serious wrapped in something silly."

And former GOP congressman Jim Nussle, a Giuliani supporter who represented an eastern Iowa district for 16 years before losing the governor's race last November, calls it a "sideshow," but with the potential to distract and lessen the importance of the caucuses.

Whether the caucuses will retain their stature is another matter for debate. With several delegate-rich states shifting their primaries to the weeks following the caucuses, some of Iowa voters' electoral power may be voided.

For more on the history of the straw poll and its predictive ability (or lack thereof) click here.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 6, 2007; 5:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: GOP Debate: Winners and Losers
Next: Romney Still Running in Iowa Straw Poll


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Posted by: jzyfbw ieqjbky | June 27, 2007 3:59 AM | Report abuse

To Eric:

"Scientific" polls simply do not address the 18-28 demographic. They do not address anyone without a "land line" phone. They address people who have voted in previous primaries; many Ron Paul supporters have never found anyone worth voting for until now.

The point is, those polls are no more accurate than the online polls in this new age. Open your mind, RP supporters may be a minority, but you have nothing to lose by supporting him in the primaries.

Posted by: Ryan | June 13, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

You all Ron Paul supporters out there,it does not matter how much votes a candidate gets,who does the vote counting is what really matters.
This message was sponsored by Diebold inc.

Posted by: Jimbo | June 12, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

any thinking person realizes that money buys you a high ranking in the traditional polls. however, this should not take away from the emerging relevance of the internet polls and blog sites. ron paul is being taken as a serious presidential canidate by millions of voters, many who do not necessarily have the ability to wtite "large" checks with hopes of calling in a future favor.

Posted by: jim t | June 11, 2007 10:00 PM | Report abuse

So many of you understand that the MSM is owned by the corporations and unceasingly propogandize for them, but you fall for it every time. When the MSM touts NcCain, Romney and Guilliani and ignores candidates like Ron Paul, youm don't even question the reasons why. If you are hoping to live in a democracy, this should bother you.

Posted by: Bo | June 7, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

It's hard for me to attach much import to polls at this time. A majority of primary voters are not yet following the candidates.

That said, McCain's decision to pull out of the poll seems a poor strategic decision. He's already sunk a substantial amount of resources in Iowa, and a fine showing there would offer a much-needed boost to his campaign. I don't think McCain's position as a frontrunner is secure at all. He can't afford this.

Posted by: Antigone | June 7, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Ron Paul is the ONLY true conservative republican candidate. Oh, and maybe you should check the polls after the debates - you will find Paul miles ahead of any in this pack. Giuliana, McCain, Romney, etc. are VERY dangerous for this country because they are all about maintaining the government elite establishment rather than realizing their proper role as a servant of the people (the American people, that is, and not the world's)...

Posted by: DH | June 7, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

n April, during the congressional debate over war funding, Gen. David Petraeus pushed back against a withdrawal timeline from Iraq "because we're only about two months into the surge," assuring Congress that he would be able to report on progress in September:

We're only about two months into the surge. We won't have all the forces on the ground until mid-June and I pointed that out to them, and noted that Ambassador Crocker and I would be doing an assessment in early September and provide that to our respective bosses at that time.

But now that the debate on timelines has passed, Petraeus is asking for even more time. Today in an interview with Lara Logan of CBS News, Petraeus tried to argue that the surge hasn't even started yet:
We haven't started the surge yet. So let me have a few months.'

Posted by: x | June 7, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, disclosed in an interview that the FBI asked him to preserve records as part of a widening investigation into Alaskan political corruption that has touched his son and ensnared one of his closest political confidants and financial backers.

Stevens, who is famous for bringing home federal earmarks for Alaska when he was Appropriations Committee chairman, was not previously known to be linked to the Justice Department's probe, which has uncovered evidence that more than $400,000 worth of bribes were given to state lawmakers in exchange for favorable energy legislation.

Investigators have used secret recording equipment, seized documents and cooperating witnesses to secure the indictments of four current and former state lawmakers, including the former state House speaker, shaking the core of Alaska's Republican Party.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

It is OK to ignore people who post incessantly about candidates whose biggest appeal is to internet types. Sure Ron Paul excites the internet types. Fine, let them type away. If you think the posts are a waste of time, just ignore them because anything that's a waste of time is not worth fighting about.

I consider these "isn't it funny" types pretty insular and sheltered but it doesn't mean I have to spend the energy to get annoyed.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Giuilani is afraid of being asked again who told him the towers were going to collapse: His super-villanous war room thugs prebriefed as to the identity of reporter Luke Rudowski, attempted to steal his camera, then had he and another reporter removed and one arrested for asking this in NH yesterday.

please WATCH GIULIANI with PETER JENNINGS admitting he was TOLD the towers were going to come down here:

confronted about it and lying here:

Posted by: Artsy | June 7, 2007 12:58 AM | Report abuse

Giuliani and McCain have said that the war in iraq has been mis-managed, and that is why the war hasn't gone very well. Personally I think that if they can't manage and organize their own campaign and choose to skip the Iowa straw poll because things don't look very good for them, how can they expect to have the expertise to manage a war. They are in a war with several other candidates and it looks like Governor Romney's CEO/Management and organizational skills in Iowa have shown who should be the next President. If they can't manage a campaign there is no way they could run a country and I certainly wouldn't want one of them to manage a war!

Posted by: Mike | June 7, 2007 12:25 AM | Report abuse

And I want to throw up my hands in disgust at all the Ron Paul backers who try to dominate every online discussion. In scientific polls, Paul typically rates in the low single digits; self-selecting online polls don't mean diddly. Paul simply isn't a credible candidate and has about as much of a chance of winning the GOP nomination as Hillary Clinton does.

Posted by: Eric | June 7, 2007 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Mainstream media just disgusts me... No mention of Ron Paul, even though he dominates every debate and wins every online poll out there... WTF? Almost makes you want to throw your hands up in disgust...

Posted by: Rob Ricks | June 6, 2007 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow! I guess it is lame now to have open discussion in a democracy. Don't you hard core republicans realize it yet? Your Rudy McRomneyson candidates have ZERO chance of getting elected. They ALL support a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, which more than 2/3 of all Americans are against.
Sure, you might be able to get Rudy McRomneyson to the top of a primary vote, but you will NEVER win in the general election on a pro-war stance.
Since it seems like many of you back a candidate just to be on a winning team, instead of out of principle and deeply held beliefs, jump on the Ron Paul bandwagon while you can still say, "I joined the Ron Paul Revolution before it was cool." Ron Paul is a real conservative with a consistent voting record and a comprehensive (you neocons love that word don't you?) understanding of how to run this nation.

RON PAUL 2008!!

Posted by: Ken Smitley | June 6, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

This is a bad strategy for McCain and Giuliani. Every other candidate there will talk about how McCain and Giuliani were too scared to show up. Mitt won't likely relax either, he will probably win by some ridiculous margin and McCain and Giuliani (who will still be in the poll) will be lucky to show up in the top five. Iowa will be an easy win after that, Romney will also be considered the forerunner.

Posted by: bjalder26 | June 6, 2007 7:23 PM | Report abuse

real Iowan, does this also mean that there is no pressure on Giuliani, McCain, or F. Thompson to commit to corn based ethanol?

Posted by: Mark in Austin | June 6, 2007 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Don't the results of the straw poll almost always lean more conservative than the actual caucus results? If that's true, why should the moderate candidates compete for conservative voters who may not be in step with moderate Republicans in the state. Giuliani and McCain would probably both prefer a second place finish in Iowa and a win in New Hampshire. Reallistically, the Iowa caucuses are going to Romney or one of the more conservative candidates. However, Giuliani and McCain can take the luster off a Romney victory in Iowa by forcing him into a third or fourth place visit in New Hampshire, which is seen as his backyard.

Posted by: Jeff | June 6, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Libs talking about Paul and cons talking about Gravel are so lame.

Posted by: Razorback | June 6, 2007 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Joe: why is it funny? Paul has zero chance of becoming president. Any breath expended in discussion of him is completely wasted.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | June 6, 2007 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Come on, money is NOT the reason these guys are skipping these events. It's purely a political decision to avoid losing the straw poll. All indications are that Mitt Romney has a substantial lead, and the other candidates don't want to admit that they just don't register well with Iowa voters.

Posted by: Dennis | June 6, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

It is all about risk control. Hillary announced (leaked) she was considering skipping Iowa. this allows culpable (plausible) deniability in case of a huge defeat. Same for rudy and Mccain. If you are ahead, don't do anything that might weaken that. If you sense a loss coming, find a way to spin it before it happens.

Posted by: kingofzouk | June 6, 2007 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Who cares? It's not like it matters who the Republicans nominate. Every single one of them is still losing to Unnamed Democratic Candidate and getting dominated by Clinton and Obama (and Edwards, for the wishful thinkers who still think he's got a shot).

Posted by: Soli | June 6, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it funny how Ron Paul is not even talked about!

Posted by: Joe in CA | June 6, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I think its always a risky strategy for frontrunners to skip events that are already on the radar of political insiders. The benefit of being a frontrunner is the media attention. The downside is that if someone chooses not to play somewhere, it makes them look weak and gives their opponents a potential opportunity to exploit.

The 2 leading candidates are giving Romney and F. Thompson a potential boost and also giving the second tier candidates and opportunity to break out of the second tier.

Posted by: Razorback | June 6, 2007 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I think McCain's decision to pull out of the straw poll makes it easier for Thompson to participate. Just showing up on a shoestring budget will get him positive spin as many Iowa Republicans are looking for a real conservative candidate and they view him as the guy.

As for Romney, this is bad news because any win will be overshadowed by the coverage of who comes in second. They will be the new alternative to Mitt. As for McCain, his campaign is dead in the water. Backing out of the straw poll just puts off the inevitable.

Posted by: Real Iowan, Des Moines | June 6, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Here's an article on the uphill battle Thompson faces with fundraising Here's a quote:

Analysts and state lawmakers continued to speculate that Thompson would not announce before the end of the second filing period so as not to look financially weak compared to candidates who have had more time to raise funds.

Posted by: LibertarianLeaning | June 6, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I haven't said anything really stoopid for some time.

tuna is tasty

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2007 5:36 PM | Report abuse

No, Thompson should run if he's trying to position himself where most think he is. McCain and Rudy are two of the candidates who are regularly seen as too 'liberal' or out of step with the base along with Romney. The second tier candidates are seen as trying to fill the void of the 'true' conservative. If one of them bloodies Romney significantly at Ames that candidate has a leg up as the 'true' conservative. And that is the specific niche that Thompson is expected to try for, making his life much more complicated.

Posted by: bluemeanies | June 6, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

bsimon: Thompson has zero funds, so this would not be a good place to focus early money

Posted by: LibertarianLeaning | June 6, 2007 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Why wouldn't a guy like Thompson use an early straw poll to boost his candidacy? Seems to me like he's pretty far behind & needs an early win to establish credibility. If "mounting a serious straw poll campaign would have cost nearly $3 million" isn't that an investment well-made by a guy that's trying to come from behind?

Posted by: bsimon | June 6, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse

As usual, your comments fail to reflect what is happening on the ground here in Iowa. Guliani's campaign appears to agree with Nussle? Nussle is Guliani's campaign in Iowa. He is the main campaign strategist for Rudy in this state.

Passing on the straw poll is a bad move for Rudy. He's essentially saying to Iowa Republicans that he doesn't need them. We don't forget that sort of thing. Wonder why McCain can't get any traction here?

Posted by: A real Iowan, Des Moines | June 6, 2007 5:11 PM | Report abuse

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