(Des Moines, Iowa) Almost 25,000 Iowans voted in this past Saturday’s Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll in Ames and the outcome means the end of the road for at least one presidential candidate.

Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander finished sixth in the Straw Poll and withdrew from the race on Monday afternoon.

“I’m obviously disappointed, I need to be honest about that,” Alexander said during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Former Vice President Dan Quayle finished ninth in the Straw Poll balloting but is in New Hampshire campaigning.

Alexander said there’s a “powerful force” moving Texas Governor George W. Bush toward the GOP presidential nomination, but Alexander said he would not endorse Bush yet. Alexander later spoke coyly of the party’s eventual nominee, saying, “whomever he or she may be” — a clear reference to Elizabeth Dole, the third-place finisher in Ames.

“My heart wants to keep going, but there is no realistic way to do it,” Alexander said during a news conference in Nashville.

Bush cemented his status as the front-runner with his 31 percent, first-place showing in the Straw Poll.

“It this was a mid-term exam, he got an ‘A’,” Iowa Republican Party chairman Kayne Robinson said during an appearance on Iowa Public Television.

Drake University political science professor Hugh Weinbrenner, also a guest on IPTV’s “Iowa Press” program, said Bush met expectations, and perhaps exceeded them.

“He’s only been in the game for about two months and I thought initially that he should avoid Iowa because it was too late for him, but he demonstrated that he could do it. He brought out three times more people to Ames than any candidate has ever done,” Weinbrenner said.

In the 1995 Iowa Straw Poll, about 11,000 ballots were cast. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm tied for first in the ’95 contest, each earning about 2,600 votes. On Saturday, Bush attracted 7,418 Straw Poll votes.

Weinbrenner warned, however, that Bush in no way is assured victory and faces a new phase in the campaign.

“What we will have to see now is whether he can withstand the onslaught of the American press because they’re going to come back at him. A one-horse race is not a race,” Weinbrenner said.

Late Saturday night, second-place Straw Poll finisher Steve Forbes characterized himself as an outsider who is positioned better than any other conservative candidate challenge Bush for the nomination.

“We have the substance, the other side had the hot air and I think we’re emerging higher for it,” Forbes said.

During a Sunday noon “Thank you rally” with supporters in Des Moines, Dole declared her third place finish a victory, of sorts.

“We did it despite the fact that we didn’t spend millions of dollars, right?” Dole asked her supporters, referring to the lavish parties Bush and Forbes threw for their Saturday Straw Poll supporters. “…With nearly six months until the Caucuses in Iowa, I’m going to demonstrate that the candidate with the most experience is more qualified than the candidates with the most money.”

Conservative activist Gary Bauer finished fourth, at the top of the pack of candidates making a direct appeal to Christian conservatives.

With the big Straw Poll now behind Iowa Republicans, party leaders are preparing to change the date of the Iowa Caucuses.

February 7, 2000, had been set as the date for the party-building meetings in every precinct in the state, but Iowa GOP chairman Robinson expects to move the event to January 31 because New Hampshire plans to move its primary to February 8.

Robinson said it “would ruin both events” to have the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary back-to-back.

The reason for moving the dates ahead is that other states have changed the dates of their primaries, hoping by moving up on the calendar voters in their states will have a bigger say in selecting the next President.