Breaking News: Ames straw poll results!
The straws are in and counted and Mitt Romney accomplished what he set out to do--win the Ames Republican straw poll, the first real test of statewide organizational strength for GOP candidates heading for January's caucus in Iowa.
He captured nearly a third of the ballots--31.5% of the 14,302 votes cast, to be exact. Second was Mike Huckabee at 18.1%, meaning that two former governors topped the list; four of the last five presidents have been governors. Sen. Sam Brownback came in third at 15.3%. Tom Tancredo was fourth at 13%. Ron Paul took 9% of the vote, just ahead of Tommy Thompson at 7.3%.
The others with just handfuls of votes were in declining order Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, John McCain and John Cox.
In 1999, with little preparation time George W. Bush won the straw poll with 31% of some 23,000 votes to beat Steve Forbes by 10 percentage points.
Opponents had tried to raise expectations for Romney to the 40% level, which he'd be unlikely to meet. The anticipated win set back the former governor a lot financially; each ballot cost $35 per person plus more than 100 chartered buses to ferry supporters from around the state. He's also invested in months of TV and radio advertising, personnel and logistics.
But the convincing victory, with nearly twice the votes of the second-place finisher, may well be worth the investment if in coming days it fuels more free media attention and a growing awareness of his candidacy elsewhere, and boosts his name recognition and ranking in national polls. Much the same could happen to the underfunded Huckabee for his surprising second place; the media love underdogs, especially on slow summer days. Tonight, Romney pronounced himself "pleased as punch."
Romney has trekked along in the 8-12% range of national polls, well behind Rudy Giuliani and even undeclared Fred Thompson, who with Sen. John McCain opted out of Ames when they saw Romney's lead developing. Romney is also ahead in statewide New Hampshire polls.
Straw poll wins do not guarantee success in the ensuing winter's Republican caucus, but historically no one has won that Iowa caucus without competing at Ames the previous summer.
As we noted this morning and several other times this past week here and here and here, this may mean the end of the '08 campaign road for some Republican candidates. Former Wisconsin governor Thompson, for instance, had vowed to quit if he didn't finish first or second. He finished sixth. And Brownback could be shaky, having been bumped into third place by fellow social conservative Huckabee.
The Times' Michael Finnegan has a complete story on the sweltering competition on this website now and in Sunday's print editions.