Today in the Des Moines Register, there is an article asking if the Ames Straw Poll is irrelevant and they conclude that if it is not irrelevant, it has been severely damaged. With both Giuliani and McCain backing out, this assessment is mostly correct. Nevertheless, the straw poll is and could still have an enormous impact.
First, the question needs to be asked, “Are Iowans offended by the withdrawal of Giuliani and McCain? If so, what impact does that have in the state?” The logical response is that the Iowans probably are offended and many have/will switch(ed) allegiances. If this occurs and Thompson stays out the straw poll, it is likely that Romney will run away with Iowa come January. The Iowans will realize that Romney is dedicated to their support and will reward him for his efforts; he has not sought to make Iowa irrelevant.
If Thompson participates in the straw poll he could be viewed very favorably (dare I say Heroic) for getting in and trying to keep the poll relevant despite his new entry and small organization. As a result, he could pull a lot of Giuliani and McCain support into his camp. If this occurs, it would be a coup for Thompson, even if he comes in a close second in the straw poll. Thompson can not be hurt by entering the straw poll. If he comes in third, he only needs to say that he did not have the time, money, or organization in place to make a good showing, but he participated to support Iowa and demonstrate his dedication to it. If he comes in a close second he solidifies himself as a top candidate, and if he won it would virtually destroy the Romney campaign.
Ultimately the biggest danger here is for Romney. Now all eyes are on him and he is expected to win big (especially if Thompson sits out). If Brownback or any other 2nd tier candidates finishes within 15% of Romney it could show that support for Romney is not as high as it we all thought. It puts Romney in some potential hot water and gives renewed hope to the Giulianis, McCains, and even Brownbacks.
The way things are going, however, it looks as if Romney will fly through the straw poll (although I am only guardedly optimistic) and will likely win Iowa. Giuliani and McCain have essentially raised the white flag in Iowa and are hedging their bets on Florida and New Hampshire, respectively.