The Florida Republican Party is likely to include all of the top GOP presidential contenders on its Sept. 24 straw poll ballot, regardless of whether they have agreed to participate in the contest, party spokesman Brian Hughes said Tuesday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is not competing in any such contests this cycle, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) have informed the Florida GOP that they will not participate in its Presidency 5 straw poll. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had not informed the party as of Tuesday of his decision, although officials expected that he would agree to compete. Georgia businessman Herman Cain; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who also served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China; and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) have accepted invitations to participate.
However, the candidates’ decisions are unlikely to matter to the Florida GOP, which is looking to elevate the state’s standing in the nominating process.
Sunshine State Republicans are trying to set their event apart from the higher-profile Ames straw poll in Iowa. The Floridians argue that they will offer a more accurate representation of their state’s GOP primary electorate than the Ames poll did in the Hawkeye State.
Bachmann won the Aug. 13 contest in Ames; Paul finished a close second.
The Florida straw poll will only include voters from the state. Its 3,500 voters have already been selected from party and grass-roots activists, donors and elected officials.
“The straw poll voters are a fair representation of the party statewide,” Hughes said.
As with the Iowa straw poll, a debate will be held the Thursday before the voting takes place. The audience for the Orlando face-off will include the 3,500 voters, and the Florida GOP hopes that the arrangement produces one of the more electric presidential debates of the 2012 cycle.
Florida has not set a date for its primary, but state GOP leaders are looking to schedule it early in the nominating calendar. The Republican National Committee allows only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold their nominating contests before March 6, but Florida has indicated it could buck the rules in order to wield more influence on the process.
Correction: Aug. 24, 2011
An earlier version of this story misidentified which voters were allowed to take part in the Ames straw poll in Iowa and also incorrectly asserted that all tickets to Presidency 5 are paid for by the state party.