Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are hoping for a political boost after finishing first and second in a straw poll or test vote on Saturday in Iowa. But as national correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington, the battle for the Republican Party's presidential nomination remains wide open.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the big winner at the Iowa straw poll, capturing 31 percent of the vote and what he hopes will be political momentum for the next phase of the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Well, there is no question that it sends a message that America is ready for a change, and that change began in Iowa," he said on NBC's Today program. "I was delighted to do so well. I know everybody else is wishing they could be in my spot, but I am glad I have got it."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee emerged from a crowded pack of Republican contenders to take second place in the Iowa event with 18 percent of the vote.

Huckabee told MSNBC television that his strong second place finish puts him in the top group of Republican candidates for the White House next year.

"You cannot win without middle America, which means that the Republicans have to keep shopping," he said. "And that is why I think that my place [showing] there was such a significant one because it showed that there is really not only a hunger for a different candidate, but I think I am fitting the bill for those looking for an alternative."

Romney and Huckabee benefited from the fact that some of their top rivals did not take part in the Iowa straw poll including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Thompson is expected to formally join the race in September.

At the moment, Giuliani continues to lead among Republicans in most national polls, but Romney is doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that begin the presidential nomination selection process for both major political parties in January.

National surveys have also indicated that many Republican voters are not satisfied with the current group of candidates, and that social conservative voters in particular are looking for a true conservative in the tradition of former President Ronald Reagan.

Political experts say both Romney and Huckabee may have won some converts with their strong showings in Iowa.

"Mitt Romney has been a conservative at times in his career, and not a conservative at other times," said John Fortier, an expert on presidential politics at the American Enterprise Institute and a guest on VOA's Encounter program. "That is the great charge against him. He is trying to be that conservative candidate."

But another Encounter guest, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, says it may be a while before a clear frontrunner emerges in the battle for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

"The Republican race is one that is looking for a frontrunner and no one can seem to find one," he said. "The Republicans have a problem because they just do not have someone who can energize conservatives, appeal to Democrats and swing [independent] voters, and who has a campaign that is put together now in a way to win the nomination."

The results of the Iowa straw poll have no official bearing on the 2008 presidential selection process, but they were definitive for at least one contender.

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson pulled out of the Republican race shortly after his poor showing in the Iowa contest.