- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2007

Mitt Romney yesterday touted his victory in this weekend’s Iowa Republican straw poll and dismissed other poll-leading candidates’ absence, saying they knew the former Massachusetts governor would win.

“I think if they thought they could have won, they would have been here,” said Mr. Romney, who got 31.5 percent of the vote in the nonbinding poll, during an appearance yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.”

Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said their respective second- and third-place finishes, with 18.1 percent and 15.3 percent of the vote, moved them into the top tier of candidates and legitimized their campaigns at least through early next year.

“We’re in fact in the first tier, I think, by everybody’s estimation,” Mr. Huckabee said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” calling his second-place finish miraculous given his relative lack of fund-raising and resources.

“It wasn’t just that we surprised people with a second showing, it’s that we did it with so few resources,” said Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “This really was feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves.”

Mr. Brownback said his third-place finish was “a ticket on board to the caucuses” and took a shot at Mr. Romney, implying that his support among Iowa voters was weak.

“I think Mitt Romney has probably hit on top of his ceiling,” he said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Despite the absence of active campaigns by former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Romney said the straw poll was about building his organizational strength before next January’s caucuses and said his performance matched the campaign’s expectations despite unusually warm weather and weak overall turnout.

Roughly 14,000 turned out for the straw poll on Saturday, nearly 10,000 fewer people than turned out in 2000, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush won.

“I got a higher percentage even than the president got eight years ago,” Mr. Romney said. “It was a warm day, and actually, it was difficult turning people out.”

Mr. Romney was first on the air in Iowa with campaign ads and has consistently led polls taken in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two contests in next year’s presidential primary and caucus calendar. However, he trails Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Thompson in most national polls.

“If you can’t compete in the heartland, if you can’t compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January when the caucuses are held, and how are you going to compete in November of ‘08?” Mr. Romney said when asked about his missing rivals.

Mr. Huckabee agreed with Mr. Romney that the failure of other top campaigns to participate would hurt their chances.

“What they did was forfeit the game,” he said. “If you forfeit, it’s a loss. They knew they weren’t going to do well with Iowa voters because Iowa voters tend to be far more conservative.”

Although Mr. Huckabee finished 13 percentage points behind Mr. Romney, he said his campaign spent less than $150,000 before the straw poll was taken.

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