Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) predicted Thursday that the winner of this weekend's Ames straw poll would likely go on to win the Iowa caucuses in February.

Branstad, a former four-term governor of Iowa who saddled up for another term last fall, said the winner of this weekend's informal balloting would be well-positioned heading into the caucuses, the first nominating contest of the 2012 cycle.

A number of the candidates are gathering in Ames this weekend to participate in the straw poll, but not all the candidates are participating. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) are sitting out the event, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) aren't participating because neither is a candidate yet.

Branstad said he expected the race for the Republican presidential nomination to come down to the winner of the Iowa caucuses and Romney, who isn't playing as aggressively in the state compared to his 2008 campaign.

In that race, Romney won the straw poll, but eventually lost the caucuses to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).