With a campaign rollout planned for South Carolina, New Hampshire and Texas, Rick Perry threatens to overshadow this weekend's Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa, the traditional kickstart to the Republican presidential race.
One prominent Iowa Republican, Craig Robinson, who helped organize the 2007Iowa Straw Poll and 2008 party caucuses for the state GOP, called the Texas governor's plans "a slap in the face."
Now a consultant, Robinson wrote on his political news site, the Iowa Republican, that "Gov. Perry either doesn’t understand the Iowa caucuses or doesn’t respect the role that Iowa plays in the nominating process."
"His decision to announce his candidacy in a manner that attempts to pull some of the spotlight away from Ames and the Iowa caucuses will not sit well with Iowa activists. Stealing some of the media attention away from the Straw Poll and the candidates that are participating on Saturday may seem like a savvy thing to do, but it comes at a high price," Robinson wrote. "Perry now risks alienating the very people he needs to support him in order to win the nomination."
Such criticisms were expected in the face of the Perry camp's reported decision to signal his intentions to enter the race with a speech in South Carolina and an event in New Hampshire, but to do so on Saturday, the same day of the traditional Straw Poll. He's expected to formally announced his bid next week in his home state of Texas.
If Perry becomes the top-tier candidate most observers expect, his move means that neither he, nor frontrunner Mitt Romney will be actively courting voters in Ames, although both campaigns would like to do well in the poll as a show of national support. Both Romney and another candidate focusing on New Hampshire over Iowa, Jon Huntsman, will participate in a televised debate in Ames on Thursday.
Perry's decision guarantees that whoever comes out on top in the Straw Poll, be it Reps. Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, or someone else, the win will come with an asterisk, reported side-by-side in news stories with Perry's candidacy.
From there, it remains possible that the GOP race could quickly be viewed as a two or three-candidate contest once Perry jumps in.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn has continually defended the relevancy of both the poll and the caucuses themselves since Romney and Huntsman decided to largely avoid the state.
Romney won the poll in Iowa four years ago, but then lost to Mike Huckabee in the caucuses. Republicans from across the state drive to Ames for the event--and it's viewed as a test of organizational strength in the state.
“It's proven a very vital piece to the presidential nomination chase here in Iowa, partly because these campaigns need to identify who their key organizers are across the state leading up the February caucuses,” Strawn told ABC News Monday. “If somebody is going to get in a car, get on a bus on a summer Saturday and come to Ames to support you, that's somebody you can count on in February. So it's a very important test for these campaigns.”