The top three finishers in Saturday’s Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll interpreted their rankings during appearances on Sunday morning television.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Straw Poll victor, appeared on FOX News Sunday. "It gives you the real boost that you need to go on to the Caucuses and, of course, if you do well in the Caucuses that helps in New Hampshire and traditionally gets you going on a national campaign," Romney said.
Romney carried the day with a larger share of the Straw Poll vote than George W. Bush won in 1999, yet there were far fewer total votes cast. Romney rejects the idea Republicans are a dispirited bunch.
"I think instead people thought that this (Straw Poll) was a pretty foregone conclusion. I also think that you had a couple of folks not participating in the race and so they didn’t bring out the numbers they would have normally brought out," Romney said. "But we’ve also had a Republican lead over the last several years. When George Bush ran, we’d had eight years of Bill Clinton and there was a lot of anger in the party and I don’t think that level of anger is there."
Romney won the Straw Poll with nearly one-third of the votes cast. He isn’t claiming "front-runner" status in the race at this point, however. "I’m pleased that the message is connecting, that all of the barbs that get thrown by my competitors are being dismissed," Romney said. "People are getting to know my family and me and saying, ‘Look, this is a guy who could lead our party.’"
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the second place finisher, appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "It wasn’t just that we surprised people with the second (place) showing. It’s that we did it with so few resources," Huckabee said. "This really was feeding the 5000 with two fish and five loaves — an amazing kind of day for us."
According to Huckabee, his other top competitors spent a "staggering" amount on the Straw Poll — busing in supporters, putting on a barbecue feast and giving away freebies in exchange for their votes. Huckabee, by comparison, brags about his lower-budget effort.
"It was a movement. It wasn’t just a ‘Hey, we’re giving out free t-shirts,’" Huckabee said of his campaign. "We gave out watermelon from my hometown of Hope, Arkansas, which of course is worth driving to Ames, Iowa, for."
Huckabee, like Romney, contends the absence of competitors Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain in the mix didn’t diminish his Straw Poll surprise.
"They were on the ballot. More importantly, what they did was forfeit the game and if you forfeit, it’s a loss," Huckabee said. "They knew they weren’t going to do well with Iowa voters because Iowa voters tend to be far more conservative. I think they looked at the clear situation and the landscape in Iowa and decided, you know what, if we go and play and do what we will probably do it will be embarrassing."
Sam Brownback, the third-place finisher in the Straw Poll, appeared on ABC’s "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. "I wanted to win it, but we’re still in it," Brownback said. "I think third is a ticket on forward to the Caucuses."
Brownback, a Kansas senator, considers it "helpful" to have the opening contest of the presidential campaign in Iowa. "Our performance at the Straw Poll — third — puts us in position to be able to do, really, I think, pretty well,"
Brownback said. Brownback spent about $325,000 on his Straw Poll effort, captured about half as many votes as Romney did Saturday. Brownback’s campaign claimed Romney outspent Brownback 10-to-one.
"I think Mitt Romney has probably hit up on top of his ceiling and I think I’ve got a lot of room to grow and be able to introduce myself to a lot more people," Brownback said.