It's finally here – the first vote in the Republican race for president, Saturday's Iowa Straw Poll on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.
Mitt Romney is expected to come out on top and seize the national spotlight, but rivals Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are hoping that Romney -- who leads polls in Iowa and New Hampshire but trails nationally -- gets less of a bounce out of a Straw Poll win than he otherwise would due to their June 6 decision not to participate.
As for the second-tier candidates, they are hoping that a strong showing will propel them into contention. In years past, the Straw Poll has had the effect of winnowing the GOP field. In 1999, just two days after a poor showing at the Straw Poll, Lamar Alexander ended his campaign. Lackluster Straw Poll performances also played a role in Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole dropping out of the GOP race before ever reaching the January caucuses.
One candidate who has been explicit in raising the stakes for the Straw Poll is former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. The former Bush Cabinet member has spent more time in Iowa than anyone else. Back in June, Thompson told C-SPAN that the Straw Poll a "must win".
In order to attract supporters to Ames, well-funded campaigns not only cover the $35 entrance fee, but also provide transportation, food, and entertainment. All proceeds from ticket sales, tent sales, and parking go to the Iowa Republican Party.
The Politico's Jonathan Martin reports that campaign aides for Romney and Sam Brownback have told the Iowa GOP they each are bringing over 100 buses to Ames Saturday. "An Iowa Republican said that Romney was bringing about 125 onto the campus of Iowa State University and Brownback just over 100. Tommy Thompson is bringing the third most, about 75. All told, state party officials are planning on the arrival of 375 buses," Martin reports.
The Straw Poll, which will be emceed by Laura Ingraham, is open to anyone with a valid Iowa driver's license, state-issued I.D., military I.D., or student I.D. from an Iowa college or university. To prevent Straw Poll participants from voting more than once, the voter will receive only one ballot and his or her thumb will be dipped in indelible ink. Votes will be cast using Diebold Optical Scan Machines. Volunteers from the Story County's Auditor office will staff all voting machines during the balloting. Once the voting ends at 7:00 pm ET, the ballots and vote counters will be moved by the Story County Auditor and the State Auditor to the tabulation room. The State Auditor will report the results at or around 8:00 pm ET inside Hilton Coliseum. The 11 candidate names appear on the ballot in alphabetical order.
Please note that while Giuliani and McCain will not be speaking -- and while they are not investing resources into the event -- their names will appear on the Straw Poll ballot because the Iowa Republican Party includes anyone officially in the race on its ballot.
Fred Thompson also will be on the ballot because the Iowa GOP incorrectly assumed that he would be in the race by Straw Poll time. (Typically, the Republican Party of Iowa limits its ballot to official candidates). Thompson will not be present at the Straw Poll but he plans to make his first trip to Iowa as a presidential prospect on Friday, Aug. 17.
By contrast, Newt Gingrich will not appear on the ballot because neither one is a full-fledged candidate. Even though Gingrich's name will not be on the ballot, he does plan to speak in Ames on behalf of his American Solutions organization.
**Mitt Romney estimates that 90 members of his family will be coming to the Straw Poll. **Mike Huckabee will be showing off a 150-pound watermelon from Hope, Ark. **George W. Bush spent $62,000 on pulled-pork sandwiches in 1999
11:00 am ET: Voting Begins 1:45 pm ET: Candidate Speeches Begin 4:30 pm ET: Candidate Speeches End 7:00 pm ET: Voting Ends 8:00 pm ET: Results Announced
Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) Businessman John Cox Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) Fmr. Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-WI) Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)
1999 Straw Poll Results In-Depth: Total Ballots Cast: 23,685
George W. Bush: 7,418 (31%) Steve Forbes: 4,921 (21%) Elizabeth Dole: 3,410 (14%) Gary Bauer: 2,114 (9%) Patrick Buchanan: 1,719 (7%) Lamar Alexander: 1,428 (6%) Alan Keyes: 1,101 (5%) Dan Quayle: 916 (4%) Orrin Hatch: 558 (2%)
'99 Straw Poll: George W. Bush '00 Caucuses Winner: George W. Bush '00 Nominee: George W. Bush
'95 Straw Poll: Dole '96 Caucuses Winner: Dole '96 Nominee: Dole
'87 Straw Poll: Robertson '88 Caucuses: Dole '88 Nominee: George H.W. Bush
'79 Straw Poll: George H. W. Bush '80 Caucuses: George H.W. Bush '80 Nominee: Reagan
The non-Straw Pollers. . .
John McCain attends a 9:15 am ET town hall meeting and media availability in Conway N.H. and a house party in Milton.
Rudy Giuliani is down all weekend.
As for the Democrats. . .
Barack Obama serves as the Grand Marshall in the Bud Billiken Parade which begins at 10:00 am ET. His wife Michelle and their daughters will join him.
Hillary Clinton attends an 11:00 am ET "Houston Welcomes Hillary Clinton" in Houston.
John Edwards meets with the SEIU ULTCW at 3:00 pm ET.
Joe Biden meets with Tama County Democrats at 1:00 pm ET, Marshall County Democrats at 3:00 pm ET and Dallas County Democrats at 7:30 pm ET.
Dennis Kucinich delivers the 3:00 pm ET keynote address to the California Democratic Leadership Council Presidential Luncheon in Los Angeles, after which he joins the "Great LA Health Care" rally at 4:00 pm ET. He ends the day with an ACT fundraiser at 5:30 pm ET.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean attends the DNC Executive Committee Meeting in Burlington, Vermont at 11:00 am ET.
On the morning after the Straw Poll, Sam Brownback is doing "This Week," Mike Huckabee is doing "Face," and Romney is doing "Fox News Sunday."
As for the Democrats. . .
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards have no public events.
Obama's better half hosts a South Side Chicago "Women for Obama" kick off at 4:00 pm ET.
Human Rights Campaign favorite Dennis Kucinich continues his West Coast swing with a 2:00 pm ET brunch and fundraiser in Encinitas, a 5:30 pm ET talk with the Democratic Club of Carlsbad, and an 8:30 pm ET Garden Party in Beverly Hills. In the evening he attends a Chopra Center for Living fundraiser at 10:00 pm ET.
Joe Biden holds a 1:00 pm ET town hall in Winterset with the Madison county democrats. At 3:00 pm ET he speaks to local democrats the grand opening of the Iowa Biden for President Headquarters in Clive.
Mitt Romney leaves Iowa (finally) and heads to Nevada for an "Ask Mitt Anything" event in Elko. He also visits California for a fundraiser in Orange County.
John McCain spends the day in South Carolina with an address to the Rotary Club in Columbia at 12:30pm ET and a media availability at 2:15pm ET. He then travels to Charleston S.C. to speak at Brith Sholom Beth Israel Synagogue.
Mike Huckabee holds private events in Little Rock ,Ark.
As for the Democrats. . .
John and Elizabeth Edwards spend the day in Iowa with a "Fighting for One America" day. The bus tour gets underway from his headquarters in Des Moines at 10:45 am ET. At noon they visit the Iowa State fair, they then attend community meetings at 2:15 pm ET, 3:45 pm ET, 6:30 pm ET, and 8:45 pm ET.
Joe Biden visits a New Hampshire veterans home at 10:15 am ET in Tilton, followed by a trip to the Nashua Rotary club at 12:15 pm ET and a 2:45 pm ET media availability in Manchester.
Chris Dodd hosts a 10:00 am ET coffee with veterans followed by a 2:00 pm ET Soapbox speech at the Iowa State Fair. And at 5:00 pm ET he attends an Iowa Veterans caucus meeting.
Dennis Kucinich gives the keynote address at the 12:00 pm ET "voice of health care reform" breakfast in Los Angeles. At 2:00 pm ET he starts a caravan tour of clinics in Los Angeles which serve the poor.
POLITICAL STORIES ON ABCNEWS.COM:
ABC News' Jake Tapper "Dems Court the Gay Vote" LINK
ABC News' Rick Klein and Jennifer Parker "Ames Straw Poll: Fun, Firearms and Elvis" LINK
ABC News' Nitya Venkataraman "Say What?! The Straw Poll Explained LINK
ABC News' David Wright "Reporter's Notebook: White House Casual Friday"LINK
POLITICAL VIDEO ON ABCNEWS.COM:
This Week All Week Webcast The ABC Political Unit previews this year's Iowa Straw Poll. LINK
George Wants to Here From You! Talk back to the Democratic presidential candidates at the Iowa debates. LINK
The Bottom Line on the Gay Forum George Stephanopoulos weighs in on the Democratic debate on gay issues. LINK
Debating Gay Issues Democratic presidential candidates court the gay and lesbian voters. LINK
Presidential Preacher Power The evangelist Billy Graham had extraordinary relationships with 11 presidents. LINK
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