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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday attributed a big part of his Iowa loss to the fact his main competitor had an established base of evangelical support, which turned out in force.
Romney, who has worked to overcome fears about voters backing him as a Mormon, took only a fifth of evangelical voters who turned out to caucus in the first test of the presidential race. Republican rival Mike Huckabee, a Baptist-preacher-turned-politician, took nearly half of that category of voters, according to entrance polls.
The Romney campaign credited a large turnout by evangelical voters - many of whom see Mormons as heretical - for Huckabee's victory.
"Mike had a terrific base as a minister - drew on that base, got a great deal of support, it was a wonderful strategy that he pursued effectively," Romney told reporters Friday in New Hampshire where he was fighting for a victory in that state's first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.
Romney said he came into Iowa an unknown governor of Massachusetts, the "bluest of the blue states," and campaigned hard to educate voters about what he stands for. But that, apparently, wasn't enough as Huckabee trounced Romney 34 percent to 25 percent.
"Had I been a Baptist minister, I perhaps could have chosen a different path, but that wasn't the path that's available to me," Romney said. "He took one that was available to him, worked it extremely well, turned out people extremely well and I congratulate him on a well-run campaign."
But Romney added, "I don't think that's going to work in every state."
New Hampshire is a good example of that. The New England state does not have a large bloc of evangelical voters. But it does have another tough competitor, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who won the state's primary in 2000 and who now leads in several polls.