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Mitt Romney will forgo Iowa straw poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney plans to forgo the Ames Straw Poll, a political event and Iowa GOP fundraiser that has been previously used to measure grassroots candidate support. During the 2008 presidential contests, the Romney campaign spent in excess of $1 million to claim straw poll victory.

In fact, the Romney campaign says intends to bypass all straw polls for 2012, regardless of host or location.

In a Wall Street Journal report (access limited to subscribers), aides to Romney noted that funds and energy would be focused on a national campaign effort.

“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,” Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, said of Romney’s decision.

Strawn noted — and rightfully so — that the Ames Straw Poll serves as a fundamental building block as the state party hopes to energize and mobilize activists.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The Ames Straw Poll serves many purposes for Iowa Republicans, but ultimately it is a fundraising and networking tool for the state party. Without Romney, who has been a polling front-runner for the GOP nomination, it is difficult to know if the Ames contest will continue to be held in the same regard by either state party activists or by national spectators to the Iowa process. If the strength of the contest is questioned due to lack of participation, the ultimate victor of the straw poll may be similarly questioned.

One 2012 candidate who stands to both gain and possibly lose from the Romney decision is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his campaign made short work of reaffirming their commitment to the Ames Straw Poll.

“I joined Governor Pawlenty’s campaign because I knew he could put his record before voters everywhere,” Matt Whitaker, chairman of the Pawlenty for President Iowa Steering Committee, said in a distributed statement. “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.”

Although Romney still plans to participate in the 2012 GOP caucuses, it remains unclear if state activists will be in a forgiving mood come January or February. They definitely weren’t generous in 2008 with U.S. Sen. John McCain when they handed him a distant third place finish following his own straw poll skip-out.

Former governor of Utah and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman cited his stance against ethanol as the reason his 2012 campaign, if he ultimately decides to seek the White House, won’t actively compete in the Hawkeye state. That announcement met with disapproval from activists and elected officials.

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