Political analysts in the United States are reviewing the results of an early gauge of voter sentiment in America's heartland. On Saturday, Republicans in the state of Iowa held a fundraiser in which participants stated their preference for the party's presidential nominee. And as VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Washington, the top finishers say they will get campaign momentum from the results.

Participants in the so-called straw poll in Iowa did not cast formal votes or pick delegates to the party's national convention.

But when they paid money Saturday to attend a state-wide Republican Party gathering, they were each given the opportunity to cast a non-binding ballot.

Two of the top Republican contenders, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, skipped the straw poll. Also absent was former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who has not yet formally entered the race, but has done well in national surveys of party members.

That left the way clear for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has focused hard on the states that will hold the first formal primaries and caucuses. He won with just over 31 percent of the votes cast, and called the victory "a big start."

"I've got a long way to go," he said. "I am not terribly well known across the nation. But what is encouraging and pleasing to me is that [in] the state or states where I have really spent my time, the first two - New Hampshire and Iowa - I am doing well."

Romney appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program. The number-two finisher in the straw poll - Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee - was interviewed on CBS's Face the Nation.

Without naming names, Huckabee took aim at Romney's ties to the business community. He said the Republican Party must do more to listen to the concerns of average Americans. "I am one of the few Republican candidates that is having the courage to talk about how we really need to separate ourselves from being the 'Wall Street Republican' crowd," said Huckabee. "We need to be the 'Main Street Republican' crowd."

Huckabee said those who did not participate in the straw poll did not want to be embarrassed by a poor showing. He said they knew they would not do well because Iowa Republicans tend to be very conservative.

Iowa Republicans are scheduled to caucus in mid-January to formally determine which candidate their delegates will back at the party's national convention in September, 2008.