In a strong reflection of just how strong his standing remains within the die-hard conservative community, Texas Republican and 2008 presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll on Saturday, earning nearly one-third (31 percent) of the entire vote. The crowd, however, booed heavily when the results were announced.
Paul was far and away the most widely anticipated speaker at the three-day conference, with his base of "Paulites" streaming into the main auditorium to hear him rail against government overreach and neoconservativism on Friday afternoon. In many respects, his win in the CPAC poll seemed pre-ordained -- his band of followers having a well-earned reputation for flooding polls and forums like these.
What it portends for a possible 2012 presidential run is anyone's guess. Paul had a similar cult-like following during the 2008 election, only to garner a relatively small chunk of the actual vote.
The other potential candidates who scored well and are more "mainstream" picks for the Republican nomination include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who earned 22 percent of the vote, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who came in third with seven percent. Romney had won the last three CPAC polls. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another talked about 2012 aspirant, tied "undecided" for fourth place at six percent.
The results provide an interesting reflection as to where conservative hearts lie nearly three years before the next presidential elections take place. But with so much time before formal campaigning begins - and with no White House aspirant even officially announcing a bid- its best to resist the temptation to read too deeply into the numbers. For example, last year, disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford polled at four percent, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- no longer even on the straw poll -- came in second at 14 percent.
Nevertheless, the CPAC poll can provide a nice boost (or, at the very least, attention) to prospective candidates. In 2007, Romney etched out a win over former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani by a margin of 21 percent to 17 percent. Sen. John McCain, who wound up winning the nomination, came in fifth with 12 percent of the vote.
Several of the candidates polled attended CPAC in the days, and even hours, ahead of the results being released. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a keynote speaker on Saturday, preceded by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (Penn.). Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke on Friday followed by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Paul. Romney addressed the audience on Thursday. All others were not in attendance during the three-day affair.
Here are the official results:
Texas Rep. Ron Paul - 31 percent
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- 22 percent
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- 7 percent
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty - 6 percent
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - 4 percent
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- 4 percent
Indiana Rep. Mike Pence - 5 percent
South Dakota Sen. John Thune -- 2 percent
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels -- 2 percent
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- 2 percent
Mississippi Gov. Hailey Barbour - 1 percent
Other - 5 percent
Undecided - 6 percent