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Florida GOP Looks to Boost State's 2012 Influence

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The Iowa straw poll is cemented as a can't-miss event for most presidential candidates looking to propel their campaign into the first tier of contenders. It can draw up to a third of all eventual attendees of the caucuses, and is among the first true tests of a candidate’s ability to connect with voters.

Florida, by virtue of its delegate count, votes in the Electoral College and status as swing state, will always be a White House campaign target that attracts candidates. Republican political operatives say that the state’s GOP straw poll also could prove to be a bellwether of sorts in the 2012 race, but explain that it is too early to tell how well it will compete with Iowa’s.

“Will a straw poll there get attention? Sure. Campaigns will be inclined to show party leaders and activists that they are taking the state and its Republican base seriously,” a strategist affiliated with a prospective 2012 candidate said. “Is it a wise commitment of resources for campaigns? That's not so clear yet.”

The Iowa straw poll will also feature an accompanying presidential debate broadcast by the Fox News Channel, with the three-day event essentially held on the Iowa State University campus.

Over the past few weeks, the state parties of Iowa and Florida have been at odds over when the Sunshine State might hold its primary. Florida wants to hold it earlier than allowed according to Republican National Committee rules, and the Iowa GOP has responded aggressively to protect the Hawkeye State’s status as the home of the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. Other traditional early states have sided with Iowa.

But that disagreement notwithstanding, senior Iowa Republicans interviewed for this story did not react defensively to the Florida GOP’s move to promote its straw poll as a significant, 2012 campaign event.

These Iowa Republicans dismissed an assertion by some Florida GOP operatives that the Sunshine State offers candidates a better test of national viability, which they attribute to Florida’s demographic and regional variety. They noted that Ames is Iowa’s geographic center and draws Republican primary voters of all stripes from every corner of the state, and emphasized that both states are perennial battlegrounds. Iowa is, however, one of the whitest states in the nation.

“The straw poll is the first proving ground for the first-in-the-nation caucus state,” Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said. “The event tests both a campaign’s organizational strength and how well a candidate’s message resonates with caucus goers. Iowa is wide open, and the straw poll will be a vital measuring stick for all of the presidential campaigns serious about beating President Obama in 2012.”

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