and hurts Romney, Huntsman, and Gingrich. How can that be true when Perry's and Palin's names were left off the ballot by the 17 member committee? Because the committee included (for the first-time) a blank line for write-in candidates and decided to count and report the write-in totals.
Since perception is 90% of the result of the Ames Straw Poll, this means that Perry and/or Palin can be declared winner(s}, simply by getting enough votes to place ahead of some of the announced candidates who were included on the ballot--and it shouldn't be hard to defeat at least Huntsman, Gingrich and even Romney because they have decided not to compete in the straw poll. At the same time, since their names aren't on the ballot, there is no expectation that they will receive anything but a marginal number of votes and therefore can't have their potential candidacies damaged by the results. Sounds like a win-win situation and Perry supporters already have a 527 in place to take advantage of this situation. Expect a similar, but less organized groundswell for Palin.
Romney, Huntsman and Gingrich are significantly damaged by having their names on the ballot. They had already announced they would not compete in the straw poll, did not purchase tent space, will not be allowed to speak, and aren't buying tickets. And yet, one of the three of them will be announced as finishing in last place, and all three will probably finish 7th, 8th, and 9th places among the listed candidates. Rick Santorum may even be able to claim, "I beat Mitt Romney."
Among the six who have ponied up the $15,000 minimum entry fee (Ron Paul paid the most at $31,000), the straw poll could also prove to be as much bad news as the potential for good news. Imagine if you're Tim Pawlenty and you come in 5th behind Bachmann, Perry, Palin, and Cain. That's a death sentence, whereas coming in 3rd behind Bachmann and Cain may have left his campaign still alive, although barely. The only person totally unaffected by any of this is Ron Paul, who doesn't really care who he beats or who he loses to or how many votes he gets for that matter.
So, expect when the dust settles in Ames and the votes are counted and announced that within a few days, the Republican field will narrow significantly--and Mitt Romney will know he's in for a serious fight for the nomination. And we'll know with whom.