Mitt bails out: Romney won’t contest Iowa straw poll

Mitt Romney will not participate in the Iowa straw poll this summer, a possible sign that he will not make a full-fledged effort to win that state’s leadoff nominating contests in 2012.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Romney’s campaign said it had decided not to participate in any straw polls, “whether it’s in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else.” But Iowa’s Ames straw poll, scheduled for August, is far and away the most important, particularly to activists who will have the first say in helping choose the Republican nominee.

That being said, the Iowa straw poll hasn’t always been a reliable predictor of success in the state. Romney won the contest in 2007, but finished second in the January caucuses to Mike Huckabee; neither won the GOP nomination.

“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. This time we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses,” Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement.

This is an increasingly fluid GOP race in which Romney was considered a soft front-runner, and his rivals -- especially those seeking to build national name recognition -- will seize any opportunity to stand out.

Not long after Romney’s campaign announced his decision did former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign issue a statement reaffirming his commitment to participate.

Romney’s campaign, anticipating how the news would play, included in its news release statements from former state party chairmen from Florida, Michigan and Iowa supporting the strategy.

But the current chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Matt Strawn, signaled otherwise.

“I’ll leave it to the pundits and voters to assess the wisdom of skipping an event of tremendous importance to tens of thousands of Iowa Republicans and caucusgoers,” he said.

Romney has visited Iowa since he started officially exploring a run this year. But he’s likely to put more emphasis on later nominating states, particularly New Hampshire, home of the first primary and where he launched his campaign.

Another Republican, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, recently said he won’t compete in Iowa at all. Pawlenty and fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, are expected to run a vigorous campaign in the Hawkeye State.

Notably, Romney’s announcement was made only hours after Newt Gingrich’s campaign suffered a meltdown, with all of his top campaign staff resigning.