Romney Wins Key Republican Iowa Poll

AMES, Iowa -- With a victory in the Republican straw poll here Saturday, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney entered the next phase of the presidential nomination battle, pitting his traditional early-state strategy against a more unorthodox approach by national front-runner Rudolph Giuliani.

Romney's win in the nonbinding Ames contest, sealed by his appeals to the party's conservative base and generous spending all around the state, underscored his attempt to concentrate time and resources on the opening states of Iowa and New Hampshire, believing that early victories will propel him to the nomination.

Giuliani, who is at odds with conservatives on abortion and gay rights, skipped the Iowa test run as part of a blueprint for victory that is less dependent upon winning the first two voting states. Giuliani strategists see a flock of big states holding their contests in late January and on the first Tuesday in February as the former New York mayor's best chance to secure the nomination.

"Romney's running a more traditional campaign to solidify social conservatives and economic conservatives," said Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

The Republican race remains wide open, with many of the party's voters disgruntled with their choices and support for all the leading candidates remaining relatively soft. That foreshadows five months of intensive campaigning before Iowa's caucuses in January.

"Today, the people of this great state sent a message to America, and that is that change begins in Iowa," Romney told an exultant crowd of about 200 supporters after the results were announced. "We're just getting started. We've got a long way to go. ... This message is rolling on."

Romney's victory came against a relatively weak field that did not include Giuliani, Senator John McCain or former Senator Fred Thompson, and after he heavily outspent those who did compete. Still, the result, with Romney easily outpacing his rivals with 32 percent of the vote, helps elevate him from relative obscurity six months ago to the top tier of the party's field -- despite his relatively low standing in national polls.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee finished second with 18 percent of the 14,302 votes cast, and Senator Sam Brownback was third with 15 percent. Huckabee and Brownback had waged a fierce battle for the allegiance of Iowa's social and religious conservatives. An ebullient Huckabee said Saturday night that the outcome would give his campaign a significant boost and vowed to coalesce those conservatives in Iowa and other early-voting states.

Participation was significantly less than at the 1999 straw poll, which then-Texas Governor George W. Bush won, with 31 percent of more than 23,000 votes cast.