Yesterday's Iowa Republican Party Staw Poll is being generally billed as a win for Mitt Romney (who finished first), a potential breakthrough moment for Mike Huckabee (who finished second), death for Tommy Thompson (who finished sixth), a big missed opportunity for Sam Brownback (who finished third despite significantly outspending Huckabee) and pretty much a wash for everybody else, including non-attendees Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
But the other story line was a sharp drop in participation (from nearly 24,000 to just over 14,000) as compared to the last competitive Straw Poll in 1999. Giuliani's spinners will undoubtedly try to claim that his supporters depressed turnout by staying home. But in truth, Iowa Republicans have been in a deep funk since their terrible November 2006 election night (when they lost two U.S. House seats, both chambers of the state legislature, and the governorship), with attendance notably sagging at most GOP events in the state. Add in the palpable unhappiness with the 2008 presidential field, and you've got a party that is in trouble in what has been one of the most competitive states in the country.