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Iowa Straw Poll Expected to Favor Romney

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And as NPR's David Greene reports, it's opened the door to other candidates who are looking for some name recognition.

DAVID GREENE: One of the Republicans hoping to make a name for himself this weekend is Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. He's been reaching out to social conservatives in Iowa, even producing a special video on YouTube.

S: I'm pro-life and I'm whole life. All life at all stages: in the womb, the child here, somebody in poverty, somebody in Africa. They're sacred and they need to be protected. It's not a political position with me. It's something I believe in.

GREENE: One of Brownback's home state newspapers has made a parody of both Brownback and those videos about Obama girl and Hillary girl. The opinion page of The Wichita Eagle made a video with another woman - well, a man dressed as a middle-aged woman. Meet Brownback girl, a bit older and not so scantily clad.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

U: (Singing) Cause the senator from the State of Kansas is Mr. Religious Right. Cause we are living in a sinful world and I am a Brownback girl.

GREENE: Joking aside, Brownback is a serious Catholic who's competing for the votes of social conservatives. His rivals include both Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who's a former Baptist minister. Recently, a pastor in Iowa who supports Huckabee questioned how long Brownback has been a Catholic. Huckabee was quick to deny any role in this.

MONTAGNE: I'm not taking on Sam Brownback. He's taking me on. But I've said, look, let's not fight each other. We're both Christian gentlemen. Let's act like it. I have not taken on Sam Brownback. I've not done robo calls. I've not put out stuff. I've done just the opposite. I've focused on why I should be president, not why somebody else shouldn't be president.

GREENE: But when Brownback cried foul about the whole episode, Huckabee's campaign manager wrote a letter saying the senator from Kansas should stop whining. The fight has gotten intense, in part because the religious activist vote in Iowa has been pivotal in straw polls in the past.

U: Bauer power! Bauer power!

GREENE: Bauer power was the chant in 1999, the last year there was a fight for the Republican nomination. Gary Bauer, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan, finished fourth in that year's straw poll and kept his marginal campaign going all the way to the Iowa caucuses the following winter.

MONTAGNE: I think the issue message that I've been trying to give the last six months is beginning to hit now. We could tell today that the message on China, on the sanctity of life, on some of the issues that really matter to the grass roots, that we're in step with the grassroots, and I think some of the frontrunners aren't.

GREENE: Of course there was a frontrunner who won that 1999 straw poll.

U: And in first place George W. Bush, 7,418 votes.

GREENE: Mr. Bush said he was glad he came.

P: Two months ago, when my Iowa supporters convinced me to participate in this straw poll, some pundits said I had nothing to gain and potentially a lot to lose. Well, thanks to you, we gained a lot.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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