Ch-ch-changes in Caucusland
Yesterday brought a batch of news from the presidential campaigns in Iowa, where believe it or not, the first stage of the nominating contest will commence in about six months (and that's if Iowa doesn't move back a week in a shuffle caused by Florida's legislation moving its primary back to January 29, or even further if New Hampshire decides to deal with all its competitors by moving back into this December, as is rumored to be a possibility).
On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani (followed within hours by John McCain) announced he would skip the massive Straw Poll being held by the state GOP in August. This is actually a bigger deal than it sounds like. The Straw Poll isn't some symbolic thing; about one-third of those who ultimately participate in the Caucuses are expected to show up, not exactly a group you want to diss. The news will feed earlier rumors that Rudy's decided to downplay Iowa and NH and count on winning the nomination in the mega-primary of February 5.
You have to figure McCain's camp had already decided the Straw Poll was going to be a disaster for him, and leaped on Guilani's announcement as a heaven-sent opportunity to turn a potentially humiliating defeat for the one-time frontrunner into an effort (probably futile) to convince the punditocracy that the Straw Poll has become meaningless without the participation of two of the "Big Three."
All this points to a big Mitt Romney win in the Straw Poll that would solidify his suddenly powerful status as the front-runner in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Maybe the downplaying of Iowa by Giuliani and McCain could create some space for a darkhorse like Mike Huckabee, but the Arkansan just ain't got the money to play well in Iowa at this point; his campaign is also suffering from the perception that he's auditioning for the second spot on somebody else's ticket. And maybe Fred Thompson will come into Iowa forcefully to challenge Romney, but probably not, given his very late start; it's more likely that he'll make his first big push in South Carolina, where he's already leading in at least one recent poll.
Over on the Democratic side, the big Iowa news this week was that legendary organizer Teresa Vilmain was replacing the near-legendary organizer JoDee Winterhoff as Hillary Clinton's campaign director in the state. The buzz is that the step was partially in response to Iowa blowback over a leaked memo from HRC's deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, urging her to skip Iowa altogether. But more likely, the shift was in the works for a while; Vilmain, who was Tom Vilsack's top strategist during his brief campaign, simply wasn't available when Clinton first set up her Iowa operation.
As it happens, the Washington Post today published a front-page piece about the campaign in Iowa in both parties. It includes a good description of the Caucus process, and a nifty chart on the byzantine interconnections of some of the top campaign operatives. --