Romney wins Iowa straw poll as expected

Top candidates Giuliani and McCain, as well as undeclared contender Fred Thompson, all opted not to campaign for the straw poll.

romney in iowa 298.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger)
romney in iowa 298.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won an easy and expected victory in a high-profile Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll on Saturday, claiming nearly twice as many votes as his nearest rival. Romney had been expected to win the test because he spent millions of dollars and months of effort on an event that was skipped by two of his major rivals. Romney scored 4,516 votes, or 31.5 percent, to outpace former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who had 2,587 votes, or 18.1 percent. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback was third with 2,192 votes, 15.3 percent. The favorite in the straw poll - itself a dry run for January's first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucus - Romney trounced every other Republican in the field of corn counters set up at the fair to let Iowans 18 or older express their allegiances. The results of the straw poll weren't clear at press time. Unlike the corn ballot, where anyone at the fair could drop a kernel in a candidate's glass jar, the straw poll requires that attendees - expected to number 20,000-30,000 - purchase a $35 ticket for the privilege of voting. Many of those tickets are paid for by the candidates themselves, who often also provide buses to help voters across the state reach the Iowa State University campus where the polling takes place. The results are in no way binding, but they can demonstrate how well-funded the campaigns are and whether lower-tier candidates have a shot. "This is a real test of organizational strength," said Thomas Beaumont, a political reporter for the Des Moines Register. "They winnow out the weaker candidates and show those who don?t have the organization in place." He said some trailing candidates in the wide Republican field had indicated that if they didn't do well, they could drop out. On the other hand, should Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, win - especially if he wins big - it could given his campaign a significant boost. "If Romney gets the [results] that people expect him to, then he's going to bust into the top tier," Beaumont predicted. "I like his ideas on life," said the 77-year-old retiree. "I think he thinks it's worth protecting, that it's murder to abort by force." She also appreciated that Romney had made the effort to come to Iowa and participate in the straw poll, warning that other candidates" absence could hurt them at the caucuses come January. "Those that come here, I would give them more credence than to those who don't," Baumgarten said. "I think they think that we [Iowans] don't have much clout, and they're going to suffer for that." It's potential damage that Democrats need not fear, as they don't have a straw poll. The Democratic National Party has made a decision not to hold an equivalent event, Iowa Democratic Party political director Norm Sterzenbach said, because it disapproves of the process. He noted that the money paid for the straw poll tickets was collected by the Republican Party to sponsor the caucus in January. "The Republican straw poll is a fund-raiser and it's used to pad the coffers of the Republican party of Iowa," he said. The Democrats, he added, gathered money from local donors and the presidential candidates directly. He also criticized the poll for being unrepresentative, because logistics and cost make it hard for many to attend. "It's representative of the busing efforts of the candidates," he said. According to the corn poll at the fair, Democrats aren't suffering for their lack of a straw poll. On Friday, at 852 kernels, Hillary Clinton was besting not only her Democratic competitors John Edwards (618) and Obama (559), but Romney, with 641, as well.