Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will not participate in a key test of strength in the early voting state of Iowa in August, his campaign said Thursday.
Romney is the front-runner in some polls for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He made the strategic decision to avoid the Aug. 13 Ames, Iowa, straw poll, which he won four years ago, rather than risk a loss that could deflate his image.
The move allows Romney to concentrate instead on a national organization and focus on New Hampshire, where he stands a far better chance and has been leading the polls.
"Our campaign has made the decision not to participate in any straw polls, whether it's in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else," said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades.
A Romney campaign aide said Romney would participate in an Aug. 11 debate in Iowa sponsored by Fox News.
In the 2008 election cycle, Romney spent $10 million competing in Iowa. Despite winning the straw vote, an important test of popularity and organization, he finished second in the Iowa caucuses several months later as the state's conservative voters turned to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
The announcement Thursday suggested Romney would not compete as heavily in Iowa as other candidates who might gain more traction among the Midwestern state's heavy concentration of social conservatives.
The Iowa caucuses are planned in January as the country's first election contest of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. New Hampshire follows in February.
Instead of the straw polls, Rhoades said: "We will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses. We look forward to bringing Mitt Romney's strong pro-jobs message to every part of the country."
Romney's move could increase pressure on a rival, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, to produce a good showing in the Iowa straw poll.
The Pawlenty campaign stressed that Pawlenty planned to compete strongly there.
"The Ames straw poll is a great gathering of conservatives, and Governor Pawlenty's solid record will be well received there. I look forward to joining thousands of Iowans in casting my vote for Governor Pawlenty in Ames this summer and in the caucuses this winter," said Matt Whitaker, chairman of the Iowa steering committee for Pawlenty.
The Republican race for the 2012 nomination is off to a slow start, with Romney and Pawlenty among the top tier of announced candidates and several others pondering races as Republicans seek to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich suffered a blow Thursday when senior members of his campaign team resigned en masse and appeared to question Gingrich's commitment to the task ahead. (Editing by Peter Cooney)
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