DES MOINES, Iowa Presidential candidate Mitt Romney does not plan to compete in the Iowa Republican straw poll in August, an event he spent more than $1 million to win four years ago but that would divert time and money from a 2012 campaign designed to present him as a national candidate, aides confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday.
The decision is a measure of how different a Romney 2012 campaign would be from 2008. It is also further evidence that the non-binding contests, of which Iowa's is the best-known and highest profile, are seen as optional for better-known candidates.
"It's a gamble that you put a lot of resources behind and it's not a predictor of who wins the caucuses. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it's not," said Charlie Black, a 30-year Republican presidential campaign strategist who advised John McCain's 2008 effort. "It's an opportunity for underdogs. It's a trap for front-runners."
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, also is not planning to compete in any other of the many nonbinding straw polls in early nominating states, including Michigan or Florida. The deadline to register delegates for the Florida straw poll in September is Friday.
"We respect the straw poll process. In the last presidential campaign we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them," Romney campaign spokesman Matt Rhoades said in a written statement provided to the AP. "This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses."
Romney has said he will campaign in Iowa, where he finished second in the 2008 caucuses. He visited Iowa last month, reconnecting with elements of the statewide network he built over the course of a year and with roughly $10 million in 2007. Romney aides also confirmed Thursday that he will participate in the Fox News Channel debate in Iowa scheduled two days before the Aug. 13 straw poll in Ames.
But deciding not to spend money on straw polls, an effort in Iowa that cost his campaign $1.5 million in 2007, is in line with what advisers have said will be a more disciplined Romney campaign, focused on winning the nomination with an economic message and allocating campaign dollars for the long haul.
"The campaign is making a smart decision to not compete in the upcoming series of straw polls," Brian Kennedy, Romney's Iowa steering committee chairman and a former state GOP chairman, said in a statement. "Mitt's focus is on winning the nomination, not the straw polls."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a national GOP poll leader in early 2007, opted not to compete in the Iowa straw poll after reconsidering his stake in the caucuses, where his moderate social positions clashed with the state's evangelical, conservative base. McCain, who also led in early 2007 GOP national polls, opted out as well, although the decision involved the Arizona senator's shaky campaign finances.
Romney's decision could raise expectations for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has arrayed a robust and seasoned Iowa campaign staff, including Romney's 2007 straw poll planner. Pawlenty must win or do very well in the caucuses to have a chance at the nomination. However, it was not clear that Romney's decision would prompt candidates to reconsider competing in the straw poll.
"There are many, many presidential candidates that need to demonstrate organizational strength and support in Iowa, and the straw poll will be the place to do it," Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said.
Iowa's straw poll is the best-known of the many non-binding popularity contests held in early-nominating states. Iowa's has grown in 30 years from a small event of about 1,400 to a pre-caucus summer festival that draws thousands of participants and a contingent of national media to Iowa State University's Hilton Coliseum.
Straw polls can create buzz for little-known candidates, fuel fundraising efforts and stir up activists in early-voting states, including in South Carolina, which is known for a series of county-level GOP straw polls.
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