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Tommy Thompson officially ends presidential bid

Move spurred by poor showing in Iowa straw poll

Tommy Thompson greeted supporters Saturday during the straw poll in Ames, Iowa. He had hoped to finish in the top two. Tommy Thompson greeted supporters Saturday during the straw poll in Ames, Iowa. He had hoped to finish in the top two. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

MILWAUKEE -- Former governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, a campaign official said yesterday.

Thompson finished sixth among eleven candidates in this weekend's Republican straw poll in Iowa. He had said before the Iowa event that he would drop out of the race unless he finished first or second.

The campaign released a statement confirming that Thompson was ending his bid but didn't say whether he would endorse another candidate.

The statement said Thompson, 65, intends to take sometime off before returning to the private sector and his nonprofit work. It said Thompson was comforted by the belief that he made a difference for people during his campaign.

Mitt Romney, the winner of the Iowa straw poll, refused yesterday to let low turnout and the absence of some notable opponents diminish his dominant victory.

The former Massachusetts governor said the Saturday poll did what it was designed to do: Let candidates demonstrate support that could propel them to victory in the state's caucuses this winter.

He maintained the decisions by New York's former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and Senator John McCain of Arizona to not participate reflected his campaign's strength.

"I think if they thought they could have won, they would have been here," Romney said on "Fox News Sunday." "If you can't compete in the heartland, if you can't compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January when the caucuses are held, and how are you going to compete in November of '08?"

Romney had been expected to win the test, largely an exercise reflecting a candidate's organizational strengths, because he spent millions of dollars and months of effort on the event.

Romney scored 4,516 votes (31.5 percent) to outpace former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who had 2,587 votes (18.1 percent). Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas was third with 2,192 votes (15.3 percent).

Thompson finished in sixth place with 1,039 votes. Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who is not an officially declared candidate, got 203 votes. Giuliani received 183 votes and McCain got 101.

Tommy Thompson had four terms as governor before serving as President Bush's secretary of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2004. He was first elected in 1966 to the Wisconsin State Assembly.

While Romney won the straw poll handily, Huckabee made the case for why his second-place finish may be the most important story coming out of the poll. Huckabee said his showing was impressive because he had little money to spend. His campaign dedicated less than $100,000 to the contest.

"It wasn't just that we surprised people with a second showing, it's that we did it with so few resources," Huckabee said. "This really was feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves."

Brownback and Huckabee had waged a fierce competition for the loyalty of influential social and religious conservatives.

Eight years ago, about 23,600 people voted in the straw poll. On Saturday, only about 14,000 participated. Romney attributed the lower turnout to heat and the expectation that he would be a runaway victor.

"I got a higher percentage even than the president got eight years ago," Romney said. "It was a warm day and, actually, it was difficult turning people out."