Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday that low turnout and the absence of some notable opponents shouldn't diminish his win in Iowa's Republican Party Straw Poll.
Romney said the straw poll did just what it was designed to do: Let candidates demonstrate support that could propel them to victory in the state's caucuses this winter.
He maintained that the decisions by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona to skip the event demonstrated his campaign's strength.
"I think if they thought they could have won, they would have been here," Romney said Sunday. "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?"
Historically, the straw poll has helped winnow the field of presidential candidates and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who ran sixth, dropped out of the race Sunday.
Romney scored 4,516 votes, 31.5 percent, to outpace former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who had 2,587 votes, 18.1 percent. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback was third with 2,192 votes, 15.3 percent.
While Romney won handily, Huckabee argued it was his second place finish that should be the most important story coming out of the straw poll. Huckabee said his campaign had little money to spend and dedicated less than $100,000 to the straw poll.
"It wasn't just that we surprised people with a second showing, it's that we did it with so few resources," Huckabee said Sunday. "This really was feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves."
Thompson's campaign did not issue a formal statement for several hours, but eventually confirmed Thompson's withdrawal.
"Candidates who finish in the bottom half of the straw poll should withdraw from the race and support the rest of the field," Thompson said on his campaign Web site in June.
Thompson, who left the event before the results were announced Saturday evening, received 1,039 votes, which put him behind Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Brownback and Huckabee had waged a fierce competition for the loyalty of influential social and religious conservatives.
Eight years ago, about 23,600 people voted in the straw poll. On Saturday, only about 14,300 did.