The Iowa state fair is taking place in Des Moines, but anyone happening on the Iowa State campus about 35 miles north of the capital city might have thought the venue had changed. Tens of thousands of Republican activists from Iowa and elsewhere braved sweltering temperatures for a day of food, entertainment and speeches by eight presidential candidates who took part in a party find-raiser and straw poll.
At the end of the day, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took a step forward in his quest for the Republican nomination for president, easily winning the straw poll of party loyalists, taking 31.5 percent of the total votes cast for a total of 4,516. The results could provide Romney's campaign with momentum going into the fall and almost certainly spells the end for one candidacy.
"The people of this great state have sent a message to the rest of the country," said Romney. "Change starts in Iowa."
"This important victory sends a signal to grassroots Republican activists across the country that we are working hard to earn their support, and that we are ready to begin the work of strengthening our economy, our military and our families," Romney added in a statement issued by his campaign.
Another clear winner was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who nabbed the coveted second-place spot with a total of 2,587 votes or 18.1 percent.
Huckabee said his showing was impressive because he had little money to spend. "You have taken a minimum amount of resources and made a maximum amount of gain,'' Huckabee told backers.
He said earlier this week that a strong second-place finish in the straw poll could loosen the purse strings of potential supporters. "We want to do well to show that the momentum continues to build,'' he said Thursday.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Huckabee had waged a fierce competition for the loyalty of influential social and religious conservatives, and Huckabee's showing gave him new credibility.
But Brownback, who spent a lot of his resources on the straw poll was close on Huckabee's heels, getting 2,192 votes, or 15.3 percent.
Brownback put the best face on his showing.
"I think this is a ticket forward for us,'' said Brownback."It was pretty close. We were both right in there together.''
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, whose anti-illegal immigration emphasis has garnered him support finished with 1,961 votes, or 13.7 percent. Ron Paul, the only anti-war candidate in the field, got 9.1 percent, or 1,305 votes.
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson suffered the biggest disappointment, getting just 1,039 votes, or 7.3 percent, in an event he has emphasized for months as critical for his candidacy. Thompson has said he would not continue in the race if he did not finish first or second and a representative of his campaign signaled that Thompson would likely end his campaign as early as Sunday.