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Romney win in Iowa poll seen likely; Front-runners on sidelines.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, leading polls in Iowa and New Hampshire but still fourth in national polls among Republican presidential contenders, is hoping to raise his national profile today with an anticipated victory in the Iowa Republican Party straw poll today.

With both former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and U.S. Sen. John S. McCain 3rd, R-Ariz., opting out of active campaigning for the straw poll event, Mr. Romney is expected to post a victory in the event. Mr. Romney has barnstormed the state and flooded local television screens with campaign ads for the event that is expected to draw tens of thousands of GOP activists to Ames, Iowa, today.

Mr. Romney has described the Iowa straw poll as "an important test of strength" for his campaign organization in the state where the first presidential caucus will be held before the New Hampshire primary early next year.

The fact that the two national front-runners and potential candidate Frederick Dalton "Fred" Thompson, an actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee, are not contesting the straw poll would make the Romney victory less impressive in some respects. It also reflects the leading candidates' worries that they may have risked an embarrassing loss to Mr. Romney if they had challenged his well-financed and highly organized campaign on the ground in Iowa.

The straw poll, in which participants pay a $35 donation to the state party to vote in the poll, will be held in a theater building on the campus of Iowa State University.

As is a tradition, candidates pay for buses from across the state's 99 counties to bring their supporters to the event, where campaigns have hired local bands and set up barbecues for the daylong festivities. Mr. Romney is expecting to bring more than 100 busloads of supporters from around the state.

A campaign RV his sons have driven all over Iowa this summer will be parked at the Romney tent outside the theater today, where the Ballyhoo Foxtrot Band will perform between stage appearances by Romney's five sons, the candidate and his wife throughout the day.

Besides Mr. Romney, Republican candidates U.S. Reps. Thomas G. Tancredo of Colorado, Ronald E. Paul of Texas, and Duncan Hunter of California, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy

Thompson and U.S. Sen. Sam

Brownback of Kansas are expected to speak at the straw poll. Although

not actively participating, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Thompson and Republican activist John H. Cox are among the 11 candidates listed on the straw poll ballot.

In the lead-up to the straw poll, Mr. Romney has been campaigning on a theme of family values with ads complaining about a "cesspool of drugs, sex and violence" harming the nation's children. While he has called for a stronger military, highlighted his opposition to gay marriage and adopted a number of pro-farming positions on the stump, his 2-year-old opposition to legalized abortion has been challenged by opponents as a late conversion to the conservative position.

Mr. Brownback is running computerized calls

from Iowa phone banks this week telling voters Mr. Romney's claim that he is firmly pro-life is not true, and asking them to "say no to Romney." Former Arkansas Gov. Michael D. Huckabee and Mr. Tancredo are telling Iowans Mr. Romney adopted a pro-life position two years ago for political reasons as he prepared to run for president.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romney has fired away at Mr. Giuliani this week, claiming he was tolerant of illegal immigrants in New York City when he was mayor.

A CNN-Opinion Research poll released yesterday showed Mr. Giuliani leading nationally with 29 percent, to Mr. Thompson's 22 percent, Mr. McCain's 16 percent and Mr. Romney's 12 percent.

Yesterday, Romney campaign spokesman Kevin A. Madden put out information playing down the significance of an expected smaller turnout or smaller margin of victory for Mr. Romney than George W. Bush realized in the 1999 straw poll that marked his first major step toward the GOP nomination.

Mr. Bush won with a record 7,800 votes, 31 percent of the votes cast in the poll after leading Iowa polls with 60 percent support. Mr. Romney is leading statewide polls with an average of 25 percent.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMN: Mitt Romney, right, talks with Jeff Mullen of Atlanta, Ga., yesterday while working the Iowa Pork Producers tent at the Iowa State Fair.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 11, 2007
Words:737
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