Romney Wins Iowa's GOP Poll

By Dan Balz and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 12, 2007

AMES, Iowa, Aug. 11 -- With a convincing victory in the Republican straw poll here Saturday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney vaulted himself into the next phase of a presidential nomination battle pitting his traditional early-state strategy against a more unorthodox approach by national front-runner Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Romney's win in the nonbinding Ames contest, sealed by his appeals to the party's conservative base and generous spending all around the state, underscored his attempt to concentrate time and resources on the opening states of Iowa and New Hampshire, believing that early victories will propel him to the nomination.

Giuliani, who is at odds with GOP conservatives on abortion and gay rights, skipped the Iowa test run as part of a blueprint for victory that is less dependent upon winning the first two voting states. Giuliani strategists see a flock of big states holding their contests in late January and on the first Tuesday in February as the former New York mayor's best chance to secure the nomination.

"Romney's running a more traditional campaign to solidify social conservatives and economic conservatives," said Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. "Rudy is not only trying to change the importance of the calendar but also trying to turn out a lot of moderates who don't traditionally vote in these primaries and caucuses. . . . Giuliani's strategy is not flawed -- but it's never been tested."

The GOP race remains wide open, with many Republican voters disgruntled with their choices and support for all the leading candidates remaining relatively soft and shallow. That foreshadows five months of intensive campaigning before Iowa's caucuses in January.

"Today, the people of this great state sent a message to America, and that is that change begins in Iowa," Romney told an exultant crowd of about 200 supporters after the results were announced. "We're just getting started. We've got a long way to go. . . . This message is rolling on."

Romney's victory came against a relatively weak field that did not include Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona or former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, and after he heavily outspent those who did compete. Still, the result, with Romney easily outpacing his rivals with 32 percent of the vote, helps elevate him from relative obscurity six months ago to the top tier of the GOP field -- despite his relatively low standing in national polls.

"I think today, the way it worked out, is this is really the defining moment for the base candidate," Romney adviser Tom Rath said. "With Giuliani, McCain and Thompson not here, I would make the argument that this was very definitely a test of who was strong with the base. . . . We think we can expand on that base as the conservative candidate going forward. That keeps us in this game a long time."

Romney's strategists see value in trying to narrow the competition to a race between their candidate and Giuliani, in hopes of setting up a conservative-vs.-moderate contest. But McCain and Thompson are wild cards who could redraw the battle for the nomination by the time of the Iowa caucuses.

Romney has begun to engage tentatively with Giuliani -- on issues such as immigration, health care and abortion -- although the former governor's advisers said he will draw his sharpest contrasts with the Democrats and, by implication, seek to convince GOP voters that he would make a superior nominee to Giuliani.

But Giuliani may resist being drawn into direct engagement with Romney. "They might want a one-on-one," one Giuliani strategist said. "But I don't think you can have a one-on-one this early. I feel pretty good no matter what the scenario."

Mike DuHaime, Giuliani's campaign manager, said his candidate may surprise people in some early contests and will be formidable in states such as Florida, California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, all of whose votes follow the first three events of 2008.

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