Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the Iowa Straw Poll, held on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa Saturday. Romney, who spent over $1 million in Iowa, won more than 31 percent of the 14,000 some votes cast. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Ames, his supporters hope this win will boost his chances against some formidable candidates who skipped Saturday's event.

Results from the straw poll were announced more than an hour later than planned because of a problem with one voting machine that required Republican party officials to hand count about 1,500 ballots. But when the results were in, Romney won handily, as had been expected.

Romney supporters chanting Sneak in under, bring up full briefly, then fade under again.

His supporters, most of whom sported yellow tee-shirts in the sweltering heat as they milled around the straw poll site, were enthusiastic about their candidate's chances in the upcoming contests leading to next year's presidential election. Many of them say they support him because of his proven leadership, both in the private sector and as a state governor, but many also cited his values and character. One issue that could be a problem for Romney is that he belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, whose followers are known as Mormons.

Romney backer and Christian Bible College professor Kevin Lucas, however, told VOA he has no problem with the candidate's religion.

Lucas: Is he going to try to convert the entire country to Mormonism or is he going to run the country as a conservative?

Flakus: You are wearing his tee-shirt, so you are obviously a supporter, so what is your view?

Lucas: My view so far is that all I have seen and heard from him and his family and the ads and interviews and everything is that he is going to run the country conservatively and that his Mormonism will not come into play any more than Clinton's Christianity or Bush's Christianity.

Notably absent at this event were three men who are considered major contenders for the Republican nomination-former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who has yet to officially announce his candidacy. They all came in with less than two percent each in the straw poll.

But some lesser-known candidates scored well in the event, giving them a possible boost for future contests. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came in second, with a little over 18 percent of the vote, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback was third, with just over 15 percent and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo took fourth place, with 13.7 percent.

The straw poll may have resulted in one candidate pulling out of the race. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson had said that he would drop his campaign if he did not place in the top three. He came in sixth, with a little over seven percent of the vote.

The Iowa Straw Poll is an unofficial contest, in that no delegates were at stake, but it is considered an important starting point for presidential hopefuls ahead of the Iowa caucus. That contest is scheduled for mid-January, but it may be moved up as a result of other states jockeying to have their primaries early next year. State officials insist that Iowa will maintain its first-place position, although they have yet to announce any change of date.