Washington (CNN) - Six Republican presidential campaigns secured spots Thursday to participate in the high stakes Ames Straw Poll in Iowa.
Multiple GOP sources told CNN that the former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and, surprisingly, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter each paid a minimum of $15,000 to rent space outside the arena where the August 13 straw poll will take place.
Newt Gingrich’s reportedly cash-strapped campaign, which had long-planned to run a robust Iowa effort, did not bid on a spot. Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis confirmed the decision, but said the candidate is “committed to the caucuses” and plans to return to the state several times in the coming weeks.
McCotter, a guitar-playing conservative with a quirky reputation on Capitol Hill, has not made an official decision about running for president. But his investment in Ames is the most serious sign to date that he plans to join the ever-widening Republican field.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are each keeping their sights on New Hampshire rather than Iowa and have already announced plans to skip the straw poll.
The contest, a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party that is traditionally seen as a test of each campaign’s organizational strength in the state, is hardly predictive.
In 2007, Romney spent heavily to win the straw poll only to come up short in the caucuses to the Republican who finished second in the straw poll, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Expectations are key: A strong showing can do wonders for lesser-known candidates, as it did for Huckabee in 2008. Conversely, an underwhelming performance can unravel a campaign hoping to do well in the caucuses.
Iowa GOP officials ran a bidding process Thursday to auction off lots closest to arena, where each campaign will set up tents and stages to rally their supporters with food, music and swag before the vote.
Positions closer to the Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University, where the straw poll balloting occurs, are most expensive.
Sources told CNN that Paul’s campaign outbid the competition and landed the premier location at the event site. Bachmann’s team is also said to have secured a first-rate spot.
Bachmann spokesman Alice Stewart said her campaign is “pleased” with the space they landed. “It’s a pretty good spot,” she said.
But in a sign that the Bachmann team views Pawlenty as one of their main rivals in the caucuses, Stewart immediately sought to raise expectations for the former governor in the straw poll.
“Pawlenty has made a big investment there for two years,” Stewart told CNN. “He will be tough to be beat but we will be ready to spend a lot of time in Iowa. We are looking forward to it.”