Once again showing surprising strength in a presidential straw poll, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas finished a strong first here Sunday in a candidate “beauty contest” held at a convention of the National Federation of Republican Women, a major arm and fairly good cross-section of the Republican Party.
Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the frontrunner in recent months in national voter surveys conducted by professional pollsters, finished a weak third in Sunday afternoon’s poll, beaten out of second by a single vote by former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
In fourth place was Gov. Pete Wilson of California, who, like Alexander, had registered little or no significant strength in the nine-man Republican field before Sunday.
Gramm captured 35 percent of the vote, more than twice as much as Alexander and Dole, who had 17 percent each. Wilson finished with 15 percent.
In all, about 1,200 of the 2,400 conventioneers cast ballots.
As much as anything, straw polls tend to measure a candidate’s ability to organize and motivate. In Iowa last month, Gramm managed to tie Dole in a straw poll, in good part by out-organizing the Kansan and by motivating his own supporters to get out and vote.
So although Sunday’s poll was unscientific and a number of the candidates, including Dole, did not show up, the results, coming on the heels of the Iowa results, are likely to increase a growing perception that Dole is by no means the party’s inevitable nominee.
“I’m winning,” Gramm boasted in a speech here this morning, even before the straw poll was held. By the time the results were in, he was gone, headed elsewhere to campaign.
Dole, who drew some criticism from his supporters for bypassing Albuquerque in favor of campaign stops in Florida and New Hampshire, tried to put the best political face possible on his defeat.
“These results demonstrate precisely why the Dole campaign doesn’t take straw polls very seriously,” Nelson Warfield, the senator’s campaign spokesman, said. “While some campaign for straw votes in New Mexico, we’re campaigning for real votes in New Hampshire.”