Iowa Straw Poll -- It's a Conundrum!

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

Romney campaigning at the Bremer County Iowa Republican picnic. He's been in Iowa more than any of his competitors and he's got the poll numbers to show it.

Des Moines, Iowa -- Mitt Romney is trimming back his financial commitment to the upcoming Iowa Straw Poll because his only competitors - Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and John McCain - are taking a pass on the upcoming August 11 event.

"We don't want to blow the competition out of the water," said Tim Albrecht, Romney's Iowa Communications Director. With a whopping 26% percent, Romney is currently the frontrunner in Iowa.

The competition Albrecht is referring to include the lower tier presidential candidates who will be attending the Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa; Tom Tancredo, John Cox, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Tommy Thompson, and Sam Brownback

Albrecht hastened to add, "We're scaling back our financial resources, but we're still committed to Iowans and to the Iowa Straw Poll. If you're going to seriously campaign in Iowa, you need to be at the Straw Poll."

Maybe, and maybe, not.

It's an expensive proposition for candidates. They have to rent a 45,000 square foot space plus tents, tables, and chairs. Typically, they also provide transportation for their supporters from around the state, along with free food, drinks, and entertainment. The price tag can easily slip
into the millions.

Without the other top tier candidates participating in the Straw Poll, there's some concern by state party officials that Romney will walk away with all the chits and the other lower tier candidates' participation won't a big enough draw to pump up attendance figures.

In the past, the Iowa Straw Poll has been a harbinger of a Republican presidential candidate's organizational strength six months before the Iowa caucuses, the first national contest to choose a presidential nominee. The Iowa caucuses, like the New Hampshire Primary, start the culling process.

The Iowa Republican Party only holds a Straw Poll when a sitting president isn't running for re-election. That last one occurred in 1999, when GW Bush landed a sucker-punch to a crowded field of presidential hopefuls. We never heard of Dan Quayle again. Bush went on to win the caucuses and the rest is history.

In years past, the Straw Poll has been a rich political cartel for the state GOP, whose aim this cycle is to fill their coffers and elect Republicans to take back their state legislature.

"There are eight candidates participating in the Straw Poll, but we'll also have the non-participants - Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain - names on the ballot," said Craig Robinson, Straw Poll Director.

However, candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are moving up in the polls, and securing one of the top three caucus slots could launch them into the top tier. The facetime they'll have with voters could increase their chances of knocking Romney off his current pedestal and bring them closer to a good showing in the caucuses.

Iowa still has a slingshot effect that can catapult a candidate into the New Hampshire primary with more money, buzz, and a chance to stay in the race until South Carolina. Without winning one of the top three tickets out of the caucuses, money and expert political staff start leaving a campaign like rats jumping off a burning ship.

However, this isn't 1999 as much as the Republicans would like it to be.

In 1999, the base was revved up after a two-term Democratic president and those scandals. Today, there are non-stop Republican scandals in Washington, a stock market screaming Bear, and an unpopular war with an unpopular Republican president.

All the major money and energy has moved to the Dems with their embarrassing riches of exciting candidates. But in 1999, forty-thousand - that's right 40,000 - Republicans attended the Iowa Straw Poll. It brought in millions for the state party and their statewide candidates, sweeping them into office.

The non-binding straw poll votes, Romney's giant lead, and the lack of any real star power from Big Daddy Fred, Mayor 9/11 Rudy, and a battle-scarred McCain, has state party officials worrying that the Straw Poll will sink into irrelevance because the faithful just won't show. The Straw Poll isn't the only game on the ground.

Here's the conundrum for an active Iowa Republican who is seriously displeased with the fat federal deficit, wants out of the Iraq War, and isn't all that excited about the current field participating at the Straw Poll:

It's a hot, sweltering Saturdday on August 11.

I can go to the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. Pay $35 bucks to get into the event, eat free BBQ ribs and drink a Diet Coke, maybe hear some good music, spend an entire day listening to most of the candidates who don't have a snowball's chance of becoming president, and even, vote for one. But, of course, the vote won't count for anything.

Or, I can take the family to the Iowa State Fair. It's only 30-minutes from Ames.

I can pay for a perfectly grilled pork chop-on-a-stick, sip a Bud, check-out the Prize of Iowa Butter Sculpture (Gee, remember the life-size butter sculpture of the Last Supper? That was cool!), find out how much the world's largest hog weighs (He always has those fans blowing on his soon-to-be Rocky Mountain Oysters.), take in a few rides on the Midway with the kids, and watch Martha's brother, he's one of the farmers dressed in drag doing a square dance on his 3900 John Deere tractor.

Is this a tough decision?

In another eight years, the Iowa Straw Poll might be able to compete with the Iowa State Fair. But by then, most likely California or Florida will be holding the first in the nation primary and it'll be good-bye Iowa, so-long New Hampshire. It's been good to know 'ya. How about that Butter Sculpture?