"I have no regrets about running. I felt my record as governor of Wisconsin and secretary of Health and Human Services gave me the experience I needed to serve as president, but I respect the decision of the voters," Thompson said in a press statement. "I am leaving the campaign trail today, but I will not leave the challenges of improving health care and welfare in America."
The four-term governor's decision was no surprise. He had focused his campaign in Iowa -- visiting all 99 of its counties in his Winnebago -- and had said he would leave the race if he didn't come in first or second in the straw poll. Instead, he trailed five other candidates, receiving only 7 percent of the vote in a field of 11 total candidates.
For Saturday's straw poll, he ditched the Winnebago and cruised into Ames on a borrowed Harley Davidson Fat Boy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
After the poll, Thompson told WITI-TV reporter Ted Perry: "My campaign was completely shocked. We absolutely thought we were coming in second. We had no doubt in our minds. The worst we thought we'd come in was third and it didn't happen that way. Something happened between the 50-yard line and the goal line. They pulled a reverse on us and we didn't see it coming."
Thompson said he plans to return to private sector and nonprofit work after a brief time off.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in first in the poll, as expected, with 31.5 percent of the vote, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 18.1 percent. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback came in third with 15 percent of the vote, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo secured fourth place with 13.7 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas landed in fifth with 9.1 percent.
Two major candidates -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- decided to sit out of the straw poll, a daylong event usually involving barbeque and political speeches.