Thursday, June 07, 2007

No Straw Poll Woes for Mitt

So, yesterday Giuliani announced that he would not participate in the Ames Iowa Straw poll, heretofore one of the best predictors of caucus success in Iowa. Not to be outdone, John McCain announced that he will not participate either.

What does this mean?

My first impression was annoyance. I mean, the initial reaction is: If Giuliani and McCain pull out, the Straw Poll will be meaningless!! Woe be unto us! But, I think there are a few deeper issues here. And, the more I read, the more positive I am that this is a GOOD thing for Mitt Romney, the only top-tier candidate to stay committed to the poll.

I mean, it would certainly be best for Mitt to BEAT McCain and Giuliani on August 11th… but it is almost as nice to spin this so that “the two conceded 2 months earlier than we expected” and that’s exactly what Romney’s camp is doing.

The Ames Iowa Straw Poll is 95% about your organization in Iowa… with the 5% going to your actual message connecting with Iowans. Giuliani has been waffling like crazy about building a ground crew in Iowa, and hasn’t done anything yet. So, he basically decided it is not worth his time. But, he has a decent way to spin it: he is running a “different” type of campaign. Ok… for Giuliani, that may work. It's risky... but it might work.

But, McCain HAS a pretty good Iowa team (maybe that should be in past-tense). In fact, one group said McCain had the best ground team in Iowa. So… why did he turn his tail and run the minute he had Giuliani's move to cover for him?

This is from a memo from Romney strategist Alex Gage:
Gov. Romney’s ratings are extremely favorable in the state—78% of caucus-goers have a favorable impression of him with only 10% having an unfavorable impression. The Governor’s favorables have increased by 10 points over the past two months. By comparison, Giuliani’s favorability rating has decreased by a net of 15 points since March, and McCain’s has dropped by a net of 11 points.

McCain has a 58 percent favorability rating. Giuliani's fav rating is 71%.

So, the conclusion from Kevin Madden (Romney press Secretary) was this:
“Our plan all along has been to play in the Iowa straw poll, and that hasn’t changed. Campaigns that have decided to abandon Ames are likely doing so out of a recognition that their organizations are outmatched and their message falls flat with Republican voters in Iowa. It looks as if we just beat those campaigns in Iowa two months earlier than we had planned on beating them.”
The Politico recorded Mitt Romney's reactiont:
"You won't believe this," Romney told hundreds of activists gathered for a party fundraising dinner. "Today, both Sen. McCain and Rudy Giuliani have withdrawn from the Ames straw poll. And the head of the Republican Party of Iowa said, 'I guess they saw the handwriting on wall.'"

"Well," Romney continued, "they're going to see more handwriting on the wall like that."

"We're going to win this nomination and the presidency," he said to loud applause.

"Handwriting on the wall" eh? How do you think the Romney camp is doing with their spin? I'll bet they were a little disappointed at first. But, then they realized: Christmas came early this year.

In response to the withdrawal and subsequent statements, the Iowa Republican Party released this statement:
The Republican Party of Iowa appreciates the Romney for President Campaign's statement regarding the Iowa Straw Poll. Governor Mitt Romney clearly understands the importance of the Straw Poll and the role the event and its voters play in the political process. In light of today's news, we are glad to hear Romney is keeping his word to participate in the Straw Poll and that he has made the wise decision to stay in the race.

In short, Giuliani and McCain conceded the straw poll to Romney... even the Iowa GOP agrees! Both campaigns think the opportunity cost will be worth it. Giuliani had a decent excuse, but I think McCain was just trying to save his campaign. He has no chance of winning the poll, so why spend all the money to come in 2nd or worse? Even so, I think such a blatant statement of weakness will just bring his campaign to a quicker end. Hey may not even survive August!

But, they just handed Mitt Romney a whole LOAD of free press, and even more goodwill among Iowa voters. That is exactly what he needs right now. From Hugh Hewitt’s blog:

No matter who announces what, there's going to be a straw poll. The results will be widely reported. The winner gets a big shot of momentum, just as in years past. Announcements of "skipping" may be a giant head fake, though I doubt very much if the Romney organization in Iowa will let up in its efforts at all, or it could be an attempt at deflating expectations early on.

So, the victory in Ames won’t be quite as sweet, but it will also be a LOT cheaper for Mitt than it would have been otherwise. They can still make an impressive showing in Iowa, interact with voters, get interviews, and be covered by the press. It won’t be the sweetest victory, but it will still be a victory.

And, in the meantime, he has a perfect way to say ‘My opponents are scared of me’ without being unkind.

As Hugh Hewitt said: “You don't win nominations by not winning contests--whether key straw polls, caucuses or primaries.”

That is all.


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