Word in Florida Republican circles is that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is reconsidering her decision to ignore the Republican Party of Florida's straw poll in September. But her campaign suggests otherwise.
Bachmann called RPOF chair Dave Bitner and spoke with him today about the straw poll. Just what they said specifically is unclear, but some Republicans say she was discussing an about-face.
RPOF spokesman Brian Hughes wouldn't go that far when asked who called whom and said what. He would only confirm that she called Bitner and discussed P5. "Don't know if it's accurate to say reconsidering. We sure hope she will be at P5 for the whole experience," he said in an email.
We just heard from Bachmann's spokes, Alice Stewart, who said that the campaign is still a no on P5: "Florida is a critical state in the primary process, however, we got in this race late and have spent our time building an organization, participating for two debates, and voting on key issues in Washington. At this time, participating in the Florida Straw Poll is simply not something we can dedicate resources to at this time."
The straw poll consists of roughly 3,500 Republican Party insiders, who range from grassroots sign-wavers to Gov. Rick Scott. Bachmann's decision not to participate was somewhat mystifying after she won the Iowa straw poll, which differs from Florida's in that the campaigns essentially pay for votes from virtually anyone.
The decision to not participate in the poll (similar to Mitt Romney's) is somewhat of an expectation-game management technique -- if not a fiction.
After all, the Republican candidates will be on the ballot whether they "participate" or not. And they'll be at the Orlando P5 event anyway for a Sept. 22 debate and then a Sept. 23 CPAC conference down the street before the Sept. 24 event.
Because it consists of pure party activists and insiders, the straw poll is one of the best insight into the mind and preferences of Florida Republicans. Right now, cellar-dwelling candidate Jon Huntsman is making the strongest push, reaching out to some voters and targeting them with direct mail. P5 was a key to Huntsman's campaign early on, which is why there's speculation in Republican circles that Huntsman won't stay in the campaign much longer if he doesn't place in the top tier. He won't -- if current polls are any indication.
Surveys also suggest that the Florida straw poll -- if not the race -- will likely come down to Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (with wild-card Ron Paul thrown in). So Bachmann might focus her energies in other states when it comes to primary season. Right now, she has no visible presence in Florida. Her campaign advisor, Ed Rollins, advised 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to skip Florida and focus on other states, leading to a protracted Republican contest. This year, skipping Florida could become more alluring because the state could lose delegates if it holds an early primary.
Meantime, while Bachmann dithers, Perry is in talks to hire consultant Randy Enwright and could pick up Republican operatives Brett Doster as well as Rick Wilson in Florida.