The New York Times headline today -- "Romney Wins Iowa Straw Poll by a Sizable Margin"-- was technically accurate. But Romney's victory in the Iowa straw poll was not by any standard impressive.
Facing marginal opposition -- none of Romney's competitors in the money-driven, pseudo-event has a serious chance of winning the nomination -- the former Massachusetts governor won ('bought' would be more accurate) less than a third of the vote.
Three leading candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (who has not yet announced) did not enter the contest at Ames.
Romney outspent his closest competitors, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, by roughly 10-1.
The Washington Post described Romney's victory as "convincing," but in a better signal of its significance, the Post article did not even mention Huckabee or Brownback, who came in second and third, respectively, until the 24th graph of a 26 graph story.
Romney's margin over a collection of underfunded second and third tier challengers barely matched or fell short of past winners in much tougher battles involving multiple heavyweight candidates.
In 1999, with a substantially larger turnout, George W. Bush won the same percentage as Romney facing Steve Forbes, who had reached deep into his deep pockets, Elizabeth Dole, and Lamar Alexander, all of whom invested impressive sums and much of their time.
In 1979, running against Ronald Reagan, Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, got a higher percentage than Romney, 35.7. And even televangelist Pat Robertson running against the senior Bush and Robert Dole in 1987 got a higher percentage, 34.
In addition to $2.5 million on television buys in Iowa, Romney has already sent out top-dollar glossy mass mailings, given stipends of $500 to $3,000 a month to some 60 Iowa "volunteer" supporters, paid the $35 charged by the Iowa Republican Party for each of his supporters casting a straw ballot, rented buses to import backers from all over the state, and supplied a barbeque for the entire mass of his attendees.
Romney was not hesitant, however, in making the most of what he got for his multi-million dollar investment. "The people of this great state sent a message to America, and that is that change begins in Iowa," Romney declared Saturday. "We're just getting started...This message is rolling on."