Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will touch down in Iowa on Wednesday, the day before a GOP presidential debate, while Rep. Michele BachmannMichele BachmannTrump says 2016 is the GOP's last chance to win Bachmann: Clinton will prosecute churches and nonprofits The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Minn.) has no scheduled appearances, a big flip from the recent norm in the early caucus state.
Romney, on the other hand, has spent almost no time in Iowa and is not participating in Saturday’s straw poll, although he will be on the ballot. He has instead focused on states that vote later in the primary process and solidifying his strong lead in New Hampshire, where he owns a home and has spent much of his time.
After spending millions to win the Ames Straw Poll four years ago — only to finish third in the caucuses months later — Romney decided to forgo all straw polls and spend much less time in the state.
According to Iowa GOP sources, many Republicans who plan to attend Saturday’s straw poll are still undecided on their candidate, which is highly unusual this close to the event. That makes Thursday’s debate even more important, as it is the largest event ahead of the straw poll itself.
But just because he is skipping the straw poll doesn’t mean Romney has written off the state entirely. His Wednesday schedule includes a business roundtable and a fundraiser for the Polk County Republican Party. He will appear at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday morning and participate in the GOP debate that evening.
The straw poll is the first major test of presidential candidates’ organizations in the early caucus state, and might be their last chance to prove they can be serious contenders.
With Texas Gov. Rick Perry expecting to get into the race soon — there have been reports of a major announcement on Saturday and that the governor will be in Iowa on Sunday — Bachmann needs a strong showing in the straw poll. If she fails to win a poll that neither Perry nor Romney is participating in, it will be viewed as a disappointing performance.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) also needs a strong showing in the straw poll — he has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate except former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), but has failed to gain in the polls.
Pawlenty has six scheduled rallies around the state on Wednesday, will participate in Thursday’s debate and plans to attend the Iowa State Fair on Friday.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) could also do well in Ames — he has a record of strong straw-poll performances. Paul has four appearances around the state Wednesday with his son, Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulConservative group presses GOP to vote against spending bill Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales MORE (R-Ky.), and will be at the debate. He will also be at the state fair on Friday.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) is also scheduled to participate in Thursday’s debate, which will be the first in which he’s participated this cycle. He does not plan to campaign in Iowa, however. He has said his opposition to ethanol production credits makes the state unwinnable for him.