Romney said the straw poll did just what it was designed to do: Let candidates demonstrate support that could propel them to victory in the state's caucuses this winter.
"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 Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who had 2,587 votes, 18.1 percent. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback was third with 2,192 votes, 15.3 percent.
While Romney won handily, Huckabee made the case for why his showing may be the most important story coming out of the straw poll. Huckabee said his showing was impressive because he had little money to spend. His campaign dedicated less than $100,000 to the straw poll.
"It wasn't just that we surprised people with a second showing, it's that we did it with so few resources," Huckabee said Sunday. "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 did. Romney attributed the 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."
Brownback called his third-place finish "a ticket on board to the caucuses" and downplayed Romney's victory.
"I think Mitt Romney has probably hit on top of his ceiling," said Brownback on ABC's "This Week."
Huckabee said his victory catapulted him to the top tier of candidates. He said those who declined to participate in the straw poll did not want to be embarrassed by a poor showing.
"What they did was forfeit the game," Huckabee said on CBS' Face the Nation. "If you forfeit, it's a loss. They knew they weren't going to do well with Iowa voters because Iowa voters tend to be far more conservative."