DES MOINES, Iowa -– Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said Friday that Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to announce his presidential run on the same day as the Ames straw poll is not a "diss to Iowa" -- in fact, he argued, it demonstrates the importance of the Hawkeye State.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Strawn also said that the straw poll is not a "predictor" event, but rather a "winnower" that will weed out weaker candidates and leave only the strongest standing as the Republican primary campaign heads into the fall.
"Historically the straw poll has served as a winnowing event. I'm a sports guy," Strawn told HuffPost. "Two-a-days are over and the straw poll and Iowa caucus process is kind of that first game. And then after that first game the campaigns look at film, retool their organizations –- you know, those that continue –- in how they're going to proceed."
Strawn, who cast the deciding vote last month in the state party's central committee to keep Perry off the straw poll ballot, blanched somewhat when asked if that decision may have motivated Perry's campaign apparatus to plan to announce his candidacy on Saturday. Given that the straw poll will also be held on Saturday, some have complained that Perry is trying to overshadow the event.
"I can't speak to that. I can't speak to what motivates them. I'm not going to look into their soul," Strawn said. "I don't share the viewpoint that it's a diss to Iowa. I think it actually highlights the importance of Iowa."
Perry's decision to come to Iowa on Sunday, as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's trip to the state on Friday, show "the center of the political universe is here in central Iowa with the debate and the straw poll," Strawn said.
Strawn said that he thinks former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner, will have to campaign vigorously in Iowa in order to be successful. He has so far spent little money and time here, and he has not actively competed to win the straw poll.
"In my conversations with Gov. Romney's advisers, they've assured me that we'll see the governor in Iowa throughout the caucus season," Strawn said. "There's no question he retains a reservoir of support from 2007 and I expect that we'll see a robust campaign from Mitt Romney here. I imagine we will from Gov. Perry when he takes those formal steps to declare."
Strawn also dismissed the notion that Iowa voters are more socially conservative than other Republican voters and do not reflect the party as a whole. Some have argued that the state has drifted to the right of the overall Republican electorate and should therefore have less influence on the nomination process.
"Most of that conversation comes from people that don't like the role Iowa plays in the process and want to move toward more of a national primary. You've seen that with some of the machinations with the calendar that's still in flux," he said, referencing attempts by officials in Florida to move up the state's primary date.
Strawn pointed out that the first campaign ads run by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) were focused on the debt ceiling, not social issues.
"If issues related to social conservatives were the ultimate decision point for Iowa caucus-goers, you probably wouldn't see them running ads based on purely economic issues," he said.
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