The Republicans who would like very much for someone to care about the fact that they are running for president will debate in Iowa—the first caucus state—tonight.

Most of them will then compete in the ridiculous Iowa Republican Straw Poll, a quadrennial ritual designed to make a lot of money for the Iowa Republican Party (which charges candidates and their supporters big bucks to set up tents near extrances, restrooms and other prime locations in and around the faciity where it is held in Ames, as well as area hotels, restaurants and vendors. The straw poll produces what the punditocracy loves best: a “result” that can be discussed endlessly and flexibly because it has little or no meaning. (Just ask past “winners” such as Pat Robertson, Phil Gramm and Mitt Romney, who parlayed their straw poll victories into caucus night defeats.)

But this year the life will be sucked out of the pre–straw poll debate and the straw poll itself by prominent Republicans who will participate in neither but who will, conveniently, be visiting Iowa when all the attention is one the state.

Grabbing much of the spotlight will be Taxes Governor Rick Perry, who says he is “supposed to” run for president. Perry will be in Iowa this weekend to grab what is left of Michele Bachmann’s thunder on the right; even if Bachmann wins the straw poll, the Texan will share the headlines. (Brutally, Perry will travel to Bachmann’s hometown, Waterloo, the site for what looks like the start of a campaign.)

With polls showing him tied with sort-of front-runner Mitt Romney, Perry’s the hot commodity of the moment. And he will make that clear with his Iowa stop, which will follow headline-grabbing visits to the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But that’s not the only attention grab by a conservative celebrity.

The TV cameras will be in Iowa. So it can hardly come as a surprise that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin palns a visit. She Who Would Not Be Ignored says she will steer her “One Nation” bus tour into the cornbelt “to meet folks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines this week.”

The visit is expected to be on Friday, just in time to grab all the attention away from the post-debate positioning and pre–straw poll campaigning of the other contenders.

Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” said that Republicans should not criticize other Republicans. And that’s cool with Perry and Palin. They won’t have to criticize fellow Republicans. They’ll just grab all the attention and leave Bachmann, Pawlenty and their compatriots grasping for straws.