Rep. Ron Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll Saturday for the second consecutive year with 30 percent of the vote out of a field of 15 candidates. The Texas Republican was followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) with 23 percent.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — who has vowed not to run for president in 2012 — tied for third, taking 6 percent each. They were followed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) with 5 percent. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is still deciding on a presidential bid, garnered 2 percent, as did former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
Both Paul and Romney ran for president in 2008. But Paul never threatened in a Republican primary ultimately won by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) despite raising tens of millions of dollars. He is not expected to be a major factor if he runs again next year. Romney has yet to make a second White House bid official, but he is expected to announce in the coming months.
The results have to leave Romney heartened, particularly given his tenuous relationship with conservative activists. Many are wary of Romney for spearheading a health care overhaul in Massachusetts that is seen as similar to the federal health care reform law enacted by President Barack Obama that has galvanized conservatives in opposition. Conservatives are also concerned with Romney’s previously moderate positions on key social issues.
The much-anticipated straw poll capped the widely attended, three-day gathering of conservative activists from around the country. Of the approximately 11,000 attendees, a record 3,742 participated in the poll, almost double the number who voted four years ago.
Other candidates included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who garnered 4 percent each.
Victory in the CPAC straw poll one year before voting begins in the Republican presidential primaries is hardly a guarantee of success in the race for the White House. But it can signal the philosophical direction of the GOP in a particular election cycle and provide a window into the minds of the conservative activists most likely to provide the boots on the ground for the eventual Republican standard-bearer.
The poll also found that the No. 1 issue of concern to the activists who participated is the size and scope of the federal government and the fact that they believe it is too large and too intrusive. Additionally, only 50 percent of those who voted have faith in the new House Republican majority to deliver on its campaign promises.