WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Ron Paul won the straw poll of conservative activists Saturday as their top choice for the 2012 presidential nomination, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished a strong second — but among the newer faces, no one showed much strength.
Paul was the first choice of the 3,742 voters at the Conservative Political Action Conference with 30 percent. Romney got 23 percent.
Paul and Romney also finished one-two in last year's poll, with almost identical percentages.
In 2007, Romney won the straw poll, followed by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual nominee, never a favorite of conservative activists, was fifth.
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Perhaps just as significantly, the vote among other hopefuls was fractured this year, even after more than a dozen potential candidates paraded to the podium over three days to make their cases to a convention that drew more than 11,000 people from around the country.
While Romney got a boost, the splintered vote among other candidates was a signal that "there's no jelling around a candidate," said CPAC Chairman David Keene.
The key message, he said, is that "all of these potential candidates are seen as conservatives. People sort of like all of them."
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson was the first choice of 6 percent; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who did not attend the conference, also 6 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 5 percent; Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, 4 percent; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 4 percent, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 4 percent.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, who did not attend, got 3 percent. At 2 percent each were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who also did not attend, former National Restaurant Association head Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.
Paul, who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and was not seen as a strong contender, was aided here by followers who have been long united behind the veteran libertarian.
Most other activists are still looking over the field, hoping to find a fresh face.
In 2007, Romney won the straw poll. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual nominee, never a favorite of conservative activists, was fifth.