Republicans Compete in Iowa Straw Poll

Republican presidential contenders vied in what some might call round one of the 2008 race — the Iowa straw poll. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the favorite. John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani stayed away. Debbie Elliott talks to David Greene about the contest.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Republican presidential candidates are in Iowa today for what some might call round one of the 2008 race. They've been paying the $35 fee for citizens to cast ballots in a straw poll. Results are expected later this evening.

NPR's David Greene has spent the day at the site of the Straw Poll - Iowa State University in Ames. He joins me now.

So this is not a caucus. It's not a primary. Explain to us how the straw poll works?

DAVID GREENE: It works like this. It's somewhat, say, a fundraiser for the Republican Party. Voters have to pay $35 to come and cast a vote for one of the Republican candidates. But the campaigns, actually, cover most of those expenses. So they go around the state. They send buses all across Iowa bringing supporters here, trying to convince them to come, and then people go inside and vote.

And, you know, the straw poll has sometimes predicted who will win the caucuses and sometimes has not, but it's given candidates a chance to get some more name recognition, and also, it's been a real bust for some candidates. In the past, some candidates have dropped out as soon as they looked at how bad things were for them in the straw poll.

ELLIOTT: How are the slate of candidates this time around treating this? Are they putting a lot into it?

GREENE: Oh, it's like a festival here. It's both politics and also, you know, like a fair. Each candidate has their tent set up and they do all sorts of things to entice their supporters to come, pick up their tickets to go vote, which the campaign has provided.

I'm looking at Sam Brownback's tent right now, the Kansas senator. He has a rock-climbing wall. I hear it's a dunk tank but not going to go near because reporters aren't very popular always with presidential candidates. But there was also Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. He actually has a bass guitarist and has a band, and he was out there on a stage next to an Elvis impersonator. And here's a little of what he had to say on the stage.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas): And, in fact, this perfect song is Elvis just came because his big slogan was Taking Care Of Business In A Flash. And we know that one of the most important things that we have to do is take care of some business. That business today is voting for Mike Huckabee.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: David, he's really rocking for the votes there.

GREENE: He's rocking for the votes and his supporters where were out there having a great time, getting ready to vote for Mike Huckabee. Now, his tent was not as crazy as the Mitt Romney tent, which had a lot of people. His - Mitt Romney's campaign was handing out the little battery-powered fans to keep people cool. And he's actually the favorite in this straw poll. He's been leading in the polls here in Iowa.

ELLIOTT: David, I understand that a couple of the major candidates, though, didn't show.

GREENE: That's right. John McCain and also Rudy Giuliani. Two of the other frontrunners not participating, also Fred Thompson who as we know has not announced yet - has also decided to not to participate today.

ELLIOTT: NPR's David Greene in Ames, Iowa. Thanks so much.

GREENE: Thank you, Debbie.

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