Pure Horserace: Rudy Writing Off Iowa?

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, speaks at a news conference Monday, May 1, 2006, in Des Moines, Iowa. Giuliani was in Iowa to speak at a motivational seminar and to raise money for local Republicans. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)
AP Photo/Steve Pope
One day after telling voters in New Hampshire that their state motto, "Live Free or Die," was appropriate for the entire nation, Rudy Giuliani appears to be sending a much different signal to Republican activists in Iowa.

That message? Go ahead and vote for someone else — at least in August.

According to an Associated Press report, Giuliani will not actively contest the Iowa Republican Party's August straw poll. The informal survey has been a key barometer of strength for GOP candidates in past campaigns, crowning front-runners and telling also-rans that it's time to give up. In 2000, George W. Bush's first-place finish there cemented his status atop his party's field.

The last time a major Republican candidate shunned the poll was also in 2000, when John McCain opted to skip the contest. It foreshadowed his later decision not to actively campaign ahead of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses — a move McCain appears to regret, since he's now working hard to win over the state's Republican voters.

But officials of the Giuliani campaign insist they're not abandoning the state when it comes to votes that actually count. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime said skipping the straw poll says nothing about his candidate's ability to compete in Iowa. "We've made a decision as a campaign not to play in any straw polls this year, most notably, obviously, the Ames straw poll," he said. "We are 100 percent committed to winning the Iowa caucuses. We're going to take the resources that would have been spent in the straw poll and we're going to dedicate all of them toward organizing for the January caucuses."

Despite his leads in most national surveys, Giuliani has placed second or third in Iowa polls, behind McCain and Mitt Romney. The strategy of skipping the straw poll but still campaigning for the caucuses suggests Giuliani believes he can still win over Iowans — just not by August. However, Iowans take their politics personally, so skipping their premier event could make it very difficult for Giuliani to persuade voters later on that he takes the state seriously.

A cynical observer might think that, no matter what his campaign says, Giuliani has given up on the state. That's not an unreasonable belief. Because attending a caucus requires party registration and far more effort than voting in a primary — especially in the dead of winter — participants tend to be on the ends of the ideological spectrum. Thus, more centrist candidates like Giuliani (and, for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton) may have a hard time replicating their national success there.

Giuliani's campaign could be sincere about its stated strategy, but in the end, it's unclear if that matters. Given the nature of Iowa voters, it's possible his decision to skip the straw poll has made winning the state — in August or January — too tough a task.

But the decision could also take some of the luster out of the event and give other candidates, most notably Fred Thompson, cover to follow course. If two or more of the front-runners aren't it the game, it doesn't have quite the same impact. And, if Giuliani is flying high in New Hampshire and nationally by the time the caucuses roll around, Iowans may take a no-harm, no-foul look back at this decision. — David Miller

Send In The Reinforcements: Giuliani isn't the only candidate shaking things up in Iowa. Hillary Clinton's campaign announced yesterday that it's sending veteran Democratic organizer Teresa Vilmain to the state as an "expansion" of the effort there. Vilmain will become Clinton's state director, replacing JoDee Winterhof, who shifts over to become a "senior strategist."

Like Giuliani, Clinton has struggled in Iowa despite spending a substantial amount of time in the state. When a memo was leaked to the press from one of her advisers raising the possibility of skipping the caucuses altogether, Clinton was quick to denounce the idea and has been barnstorming the state since. But a shake-up in her Iowa team suggests there's still work to be done. Vaughn Ververs

So Little Time, So Few Topics: If you're already getting tired of the repetitious nature of these presidential debates, you're not alone. In last night's GOP affair in New Hampshire, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson nearly leapt for joy when he was asked a question about health care, an issue barely touched on in any of the Republican debates. "I've been here for two debates. We never had one question on health care," he exclaimed.

In a conference call this morning with reporters, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also expressed his frustration with the breadth of topics the candidates are asked to address. "We spent an enormous amount of time" talking about Iraq, he said, which was appropriate. But Huckabee noted that nine of the 10 candidates on stage last night have similar positions on the issue and have differences on many other issues.

Huckabee noted that there were no questions about education, taxes or economic development issues, which he found odd in a GOP field. Of course, there was a question about evolution that seemed to irk Huckabee, one reporter noted. "I had to ask myself how many people around the dinner table" last night were asking themselves what the candidates thought about evolution, he said. Vaughn Ververs

What Do Voters Care About? The answer is generally war, peace and economic prosperity, according to CBS News polling guru Kathy Frankovic in the latest installment of column and find out more.

And What Are Pollsters Worried About? Many are concerned about the growing number of Americans who have dumped traditional telephone lines in favor of going all-cell-all-the-time. That's putting an increasing number of people out of reach of traditional polling methods, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and has pollsters working overtime to find solutions to the problem.

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By David Miller and Vaughn Ververs