- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Some Iowa Republicans are questioning whether presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani intends to largely skip the state’s leadoff caucuses.

A sluggish start to campaign organizing and indecision about whether to compete in a high-profile straw poll in August has prompted speculation that Mr. Giuliani will pay only cursory attention to Iowa and instead focus on larger states, which are earlier in the 2008 race than ever before. In such states, unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, “retail campaigning” is impossible and Mr. Giuliani’s high name recognition would matter more.

Mr. Giuliani has led in national polls of Republican voters. However, a recent poll by the Des Moines Sunday Register of likely Republican caucus participants in Iowa gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a strong lead of 30 percent, compared with 18 percent for Arizona Sen. John McCain and 17 percent for Mr. Giuliani.

“The best organizations have to be McCain and Romney,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the state’s top Republican elected official. “I don’t think Giuliani is very far along on organizing.”

Aides insist Mr. Giuliani is forming a strong campaign staff in Iowa.

“We are putting in place a full and complete field organization and leadership organization to compete,” said Mark Campbell, a Giuliani political adviser.

Republican candidates are likely to spend millions to deliver backers to Iowa State University for the straw poll Aug. 11, which features speeches by candidates and offers activists and others a chance to cast a ballot in favor of a presidential hopeful.

In 2000, some candidates who fared poorly in the straw poll dropped out of the race for the nomination, making the event an early primary of sorts. The Iowa Democratic Party doesn’t conduct a straw poll.

Mr. Giuliani’s rivals are already spending time and money on turnout. Mr. Romney, for example, has a staffer focused full-time on getting supporters to attend.

“We’re committed to playing in the straw poll, and we’re treating it as an organizational benchmark,” said Romney strategist Gentry Collins.

Republican consultant Bob Haus, who isn’t working on a campaign, contends that the delayed decision by Mr. Giuliani could damage his image.

“The bigger question is, from a man basing his candidacy on decisiveness and leadership, waffling on the straw poll is a real question,” Mr. Haus said.

Organization is key to scoring well in the straw poll and in the caucuses that follow.

“Iowa is a grass-roots state,” said Chuck Larson Jr., a former state Republican chairman who is working for the McCain campaign. “If you are going to participate here, it requires boots on the ground.”

Following that dictum, Mr. McCain has assigned 20 staffers to Iowa, and Mr. Romney has 17. Giuliani aides said they’ve put seven staffers to work in Iowa and intend to hire more.

Mr. Campbell, the Giuliani adviser, said other campaigns are emphasizing the straw poll because the event is essential to them. But he said that his candidate’s fundraising success and his advantage in name recognition mean the event isn’t a make-or-break one.

“The real issue here is McCain and Romney both have to win the straw poll in order to justify them in moving forward,” Mr. Campbell said. “If we play in the straw poll, it will be part of our effort to win the Iowa caucuses. They’ve got all of their eggs in Iowa.”

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