The GOP candidates debated in Iowa on Sunday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Three months ago, political junkies were looking at August 11 as a watershed moment in the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. It would be a day when the GOP field would be winnowed, perhaps a front-runner established and each of the candidates would stake out positions to distinguish themselves from one another.
Then John McCain and Rudy Giuliani announced they would skip the event, Fred Thompson arrived on the scene as the great unannounced candidate and McCain's campaign literally imploded. McCain and Giuliani cited financial reasons for their decision to bypass the straw poll. A few weeks later, we learned why McCain was opting out - he had no money. As for Thompson, well, he continues to "explore" a White House bid and will not play in Ames on Saturday.
So, will the GOP straw poll matter? Of course it will. A couple of 2nd and 3rd tier candidates might abandon their quixotic bids if they have a bad showing. A strong performance by one of the lower tier candidates coupled with a weaker than expected showing by odds-on-favorite Mitt Romney could spur questions about the former Massachusetts governor's presidential bid. And loyal Republican caucus goers will get a better sense on this hot August day about who they might support when the temperature dips below freezing in January.
For now, Iowa caucus goers are frosty on the current slate of candidates, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday. Only one-fifth of Republican caucus-goers responded that they were "very satisfied" with the current slate of GOP candidates. Romney, who has spent the most money and time organizing in the state, leads the pack with 26 percent and is followed by Giuliani, who rings in at 14 percent. McCain has dropped to the single digits, while the yet-to-officially announce Thompson checks in at 13 percent.
The nine candidates had a chance Sunday to make a mark and separate themselves from the pack in a presidential primary debate broadcast on ABC's "This Week." They failed. While Romney and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, did spar over abortion, there was very little meaningful disagreement over major issues such as Iraq. There was a united willingness to distance themselves from President Bush and most of the stinging criticism (save for the Brownback-Romney exchange) was directed at Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. At the end of the 90 minute exchange, arguably it was Obama who was the true winner.
- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston