Posted at 5:14 PM on February 12, 2011
by Mark Zdechlik
From MPR's Brett Neely in Washington
In a hotly-contested preview of next year's Republican presidential nomination process, Congressman Ron Paul, R-TX, won today's straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC with 30 percent of the vote.
The results were likely a disappointment for the possible presidential aspirations of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, who both drew 4 percent each of the 3,742 votes from conservative activists.
In the crowded field of Republican contenders for the White House, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second with 23 percent of the vote. The third place winner was former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson with 6 percent of the vote.
Other potential Republican presidential candidates on the straw poll ballot included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. John Thune, R-SD, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, all of whom drew single-digit support.
Many candidates and other high-profile Republicans, such as commentator Ann Coulter, spoke before spirited crowds at the three day long event held at a hotel in Washington, DC. Two other prospective candidates, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, did not speak at the conference but were on the ballot, drawing 3 and 2 percent of the straw poll vote respectively.
While far from a representative sampling of Republican voters who will ultimately decide on a GOP nominee, a strong showing at CPAC can help potential presidential candidates raise money, attract volunteers and draw media attention. The conference is heavily dominated by young conservative activists and skews towards the GOP's libertarian and fiscally conservative wings rather than the socially conservative segment of the party.
Both Pawlenty and Bachmann gave fiery speeches toutting their conservative credentials and ripping into the President Barack Obama. They also sought to show off their potential advantages as candidates.
In her speech, the first of the conference on Thursday morning, Bachmann called for the entire Republican coalition to unite with the goal of defeating President Obama in 2012.
"For our conservative coalition to be victorious in 2012 it will take every one of us, and then some, pulling together to bring the three legs of this conservative stool together," said Bachmann. "The fiscal conservative leg, the national security leg and the social conservative leg to work together. We cannot shun each other for 2012."
Pawlenty highlighted his record while governor of Minnesota, pointing to his fiscal policies while in office as a sign of his fitness for the presidency.
"We cut government in Minnesota, and if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere," Pawlenty told a packed crowd Friday afternoon.
Pawlenty continues his shadow campaign for the White House Sunday, with an appearance on ABC's The Week.