Ron Paul speaks at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
Ron Paul has captured another straw poll, at the Republican Leadership Conference, and while that gives him some bragging rights, the victory is just a minor step, though it explains the political muscle of a small but fiercely dedicated group in any political process.
Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a favorite of libertarians, captured 612 votes Saturday at the GOP conference that attracted 2,000 delegates to New Orleans. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who did not attend the conservative shindig, finished a surprisingly strong second with 382 votes.
Rep.Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and businessman Herman Cain placed third and fourth, respectively, with the rest of the fractured GOP field below triple digits.
Photos: Potential 2012 GOP candidates
Straw votes or polls are a special hybrid between scientific surveys and general elections. A scientific poll is based on a sample that professes to offer some insight into how the general electorate will vote. But a straw poll is merely the counting of anyone who shows up at that moment. The number of voters is generally small and self-selected, so there is no way to extrapolate the results to a larger body like the general electorate.
To use an example from the movie "Field of Dreams," it is similar to the voice that tells the hero, Ray, "If you build it, he will come." Hold a straw poll and dedicated partisans will come to cast a ballot for their choice, often Ron Paul.
Paul has done extremely well in straw polls, winning twice at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 and this year before Saturday's victory. His supporters are ardent in going to great lengths to express their preference for the 75-year-old congressman.
But Paul's support rarely seriously grows when the number of voters rapidly expands as the venue shifts from a small, self-designated preference poll to a larger caucus, like Iowa's, or eventually, the even larger arenas of primaries. Paul can always be a voice, but he has had enormous difficulty becoming a competitive player.
Paul on Monday made use of his immediate win, telling the "Today" show that he thinks young enough to be president.
In his television appearance, Paul stressed the two themes he has used throughout this election cycle and through much of his career. He hammered at U.S. economic policy, which he has consistently argued should be based more on markets than government intervention. On foreign affairs, he again rejected the idea that the United States should function as the world policeman.