Rep. Ron Paul speaks at CPAC. For the second straight year, the Texas congressman… (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — Ron Paul again triumphed in the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, overwhelming the support for most other potential Republican candidates at the annual gathering of conservatives in the nation's capital.
Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas who ran for president in 2008, edged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 30% to 23%. The result was barely changed from last year's, when Paul won 31% to 22%.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie each had 6% of the vote, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 5%.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who did not speak at the three-day gathering, had 3% of the vote.
The road to the GOP nomination filled with straw poll ballots. Romney won a straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last April, edging Paul by a single vote, getting 24% overall.
The former governor of Massachusetts also won a poll of New Hampshire Republican Committee members last month in the first-in-the-nation primary state. Another test looms this August in Iowa, the state that hosts the first caucuses, at the Ames Straw Poll.
The ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel erupted with a mix of boos and cheers when the results were announced, again an echo of last year's event.
Organizers seemed to acknowledge the tension among conservatives about Paul and the results as they stressed it was not a scientific study.
"It's not a Gallup poll," CPAC organizer David Keene said before he read the results. He emphasized that participation was voluntary — 3,742 people voted, twice as many as four years ago but fewer than half of the total registered to attend this year.
The field of candidates for the GOP nomination remains unsettled, and only a slight majority — 56% of those who participated in the CPAC poll said they were "generally satisfied" with the current crop of expected candidates. That is up 10%, though, from the 2010 poll.
The first nominating contest in Iowa is scheduled for early February 2012, though it may move up as states like Florida again seek to move up in the calendar.