By nightfall, the
Union Army was straggling back to the city. Stunned
and panicked spectators had already returned to report
the defeat of Gen. McDowell`s forces. What the First
Battle of Bull Run meant was that the rebels were
stronger and tougher than anticipated, and
Mr. Lincoln`s war was not going to be easy or short.
In Republican presidential politics, the Iowa straw
poll, held the August before the January caucuses,
serves the role of Bull Run. It is the first major
skirmish of the presidential season and registers the
appeal of a candidate to the nation`s first voters, the
strength of his organization and the extent of his
Thus, it is a stunning development that Rudy Giuliani,
then John McCain, just
pulled out of the Iowa straw poll on Aug. 11.
What seems to have happened is this.
Having spent less time in Iowa than
Mitt Romney, with an organization regarded as feeble
compared to theirs, Rudy feared a crushing defeat on
Aug. 11 that would have destroyed his aura as
front-runner. Rather than be humiliated, he elected to
forfeit the game.
That left McCain nothing to gain on Aug. 11, but a
lot to lose. Now, he could not claim to have defeated
Rudy, his main rival, but he would risk an
embarrassing loss to Romney, who leads in many Iowa
polls and whose organization is said to be the strongest
in the state.
Mitt Romney is now the favorite to win the Iowa
Caucuses in January, eight days before New Hampshire.
And recall: John Kerry`s three-point victory in Iowa
in 2004 propelled him to victory in New Hampshire and
virtually every other primary save South Carolina
There is a real question today whether Rudy, whose
liberal stance on gay rights and right-to-life is
anathema to most Iowa Republicans, will even play in
the caucuses. Why risk a death blow to his candidacy in
what may be one of Rudy`s weakest states?
McCain has to consider whether he, too, wants to risk
a defeat there in January, which could be fatal to his
candidacy, or whether he is not better advised to await
Romney in New Hampshire, the way he did George W. Bush
in 2000, when McCain—wisely, it turned out—ducked Iowa
The withdrawal of Rudy and McCain not only dims their
luster, it puts pressure on Romney to run up the score
on Aug. 11 and show intimidating strength. And it
presents an opening for a second-tier candidate—former
Govs. Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore,
Reps. Duncan Hunter,
Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul, and Sen. Sam Brownback—to
break out of the pack.
Whoever now runs second to Romney in the straw
poll—especially if he can put distance between himself
and No. 3—will begin to attract attention from the media
and see his contributions increase.
The McCain-Giuliani cop-out will cause Fred Thompson
to review his strategy. Wisely, he has passed up the
straw poll. This would have cost him hundreds of
thousands of campaign cash for a tent, tickets, food and
buses at the all-day affair in Ames, and availed him
nothing. For his late entry would have precluded a
first- or second-place finish.
Thompson now has to ask himself whether he should
even go to Iowa—or do as McCain did in 2000, skip the
state and take his stand in New Hampshire.
Writing off Iowa makes sense for Thompson. For it is
hard to see how he could make up for the lost six months
he has already ceded to the other candidates in
organizing the state. Most Iowa political activists have
already committed to other candidates.
The same would hold true for Newt Gingrich, should he
decide to run, which appears unlikely now that
Fred Thompson has moved into the vacuum left by
conservative dissatisfaction with the front-runners. But
should Newt get in, it would make no sense for him to go
to Iowa and play against a deck that seems stacked for
Romney. Better to wait for New Hampshire.
Neither the Iowa straw poll nor the caucuses are
necessarily decisive. Sen.
Phil Gramm won the straw poll in 1996. George H.W.
Bush defeated Ronald Reagan in the caucuses of 1980.
But the Iowa Caucuses have always been important, and
Jimmy Carter`s victory led to the nomination in 1976.
Kerry`s victory led to the nomination. George W. Bush`s
smashing victory in the
Iowa straw poll of 1999 and follow-on triumph in the
caucuses propelled him through defeat in New Hampshire
to the White House.
Mitt Romney has been robbed of a triumph over his two
main rivals on Aug. 11. They evaded the trap he had set.
But in running Rudy and John out of Ames, Romney has
shown real strength, and must now be the favorite to
take Iowa in January and probably is the man to beat in
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