ABC News’ Rick Klein (@rickklein) reports:
The Republican presidential campaign is centered on Iowa this week, with the state fair in its full, high-caloric glory, Fox News airing a debate Thursday night, and the Iowa state party’s Ames Straw Poll taking place Saturday.
But while several candidates are pinning their hopes on a strong showing in Ames, it’s an event somewhat dimmed by prominent no-shows. The straw poll ballot won’t include either Rick Perry or Sarah Palin – both of whom poll strongly in national presidential polls – and 2007’s Ames winner, Mitt Romney, choosing not to make a play this year.
On ABC’s “Top Line” today, Matt Strawn, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, told us that the contest this weekend remains a “very important test” for the men and women who are seeking the presidential nomination.
“It's proven a very vital piece to the presidential nomination chase here in Iowa, partly because these campaigns need to identify who their key organizers are across the state leading up the February caucuses,” Strawn told us. “If somebody is going to get in a car, get on a bus on a summer Saturday and come to Ames to support you, that's somebody you can count on in February. So it's a very important test for these campaigns.”
Strawn dismissed suggestions that the straw poll – and the Iowa caucuses – have lost some of their cachet.
“It's just your typical week in politics with about a hundred presidential candidate events between now and when the voters go to the polls in Ames at 10 o’clock on Saturday,” he said. “We got a record request for, actually, credentialed members of the media who will be in Iowa. … I know a few months ago folks were trotting out that tired story line — whether Iowa is relevant — but the fact that the candidates are here.”
He stopped short of saying that Romney’s non-participation in the straw poll will be a liability, noting that Romney’s campaign had different challenges in the 2008 cycle than it does today.
“I'll leave it to the wisdom of the voters to assess that decision [not to participate this year] over the coming months. But the one thing with Mitt Romney that's different this time than four years ago is, you know, he needed the straw poll to get known among Iowa caucus-goers. And Gov. Romney has already identified supporters in the state from his last race.”
Strawn continued: “We really have a very fluid field right now. And I think a lot of that is due to the fact that caucus-goers get this decision right. We understand that America can't afford four more years of Barack Obama’s presidency. So I think you see a much more deliberative process going on with your typical caucus-goer.”
The GOP energy in Iowa will spill over into the general election, Strawn said.
“I'm hearing from people all across the state that are saying that this will be the first time they have ever attended a straw poll. And you think about how dramatic that is in the state that launched Barack Obama four ago. Iowa isn’t going to be just competitive during the caucus process, but it's actually going to be one of those eight to nine states in November of 2012 that decides who the next president is.”