Mitt Romney is effectively skipping the Ames straw poll, suggesting that he is going to deemphasize the Iowa caucuses next year. When Romney lost Iowa in an upset to Mike Huckabee in 2008, it was a major hit to his campaign. Now that Newt Gingrich’s entire Iowa team has resigned, it has raised questions about how important Iowa is going to be this time around.
But Iowa may still have a significant role, especially if the field remains more or less where it is now. Iowa will be Tim Pawlenty’s best shot to establish himself as the main alternative to Romney. If he wins the caucuses — or performs very strongly despite his anti-ethanol subsidy stance — his path to the nomination begins to come together. If Pawlenty doesn’t catch fire and he finishes behind candidates like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul, it is much harder to see how he moves into the top tier.