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Romney takes SRLC straw poll by one vote

NEW ORLEANS -- In a surprise, Mitt Romney edged out Ron Paul to win the SRLC straw poll by a single vote.

Romney took 439 votes (24 percent) to Paul's 438 votes (also 24 percent), a result that disappointed a Paul-heavy crowd that had stuck around to watch the results. Sarah Palin came in third with 330 votes (18 percent), and Newt Gingrich came in fourth with 321 votes (18 percent); Mike Huckabee, who did not attend the event, scored 4 percent. Total ballots cast: 1,806.

Romney, who also did not attend the conference, benefited from a grassroots effort from Evangelicals for Mitt, a group run by David and Nancy French -- who'd helped Romney score a second-place finish at the 2006 SRLC. They'd purchased around 200 tickets, 800 copies of Romney's book "No Apology," and 2000 piggy banks with the Evangelicals for Mitt logo. Before the vote, French soft-peddled the meaning of the exercise, stressing that it was "not binding." After the vote, French held court near the press boxes as his small team hugged and high-fived.

"Is that not incredible?" French said into a cell phone. "Our guy wasn't even here!"

When I spoke to French, he stuck by his "not binding" comment, then basked in his victory. "We just wanted to show that Mitt has friends down here."

Paul's fans were crushed. "That's not legit!" one fan yelled when the votes were announced. The small group, waving signs, informed reporters of their worries about vote integrity before heading to a nearby bar for a rally with Paul. The congressman's 401(c)4, the Campaign for Liberty, snagged around 600 tickets, but had some trouble getting supporters to show up.

Palin's 18 percent, a mild surprise, jibed with an argument made by many SRLC attendees that the former governor of Alaska wasn't ready for the presidency. "I'd like to see her help the party," said Joe Scalise, the cousin of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). "She can do a lot to support the next nominee."

Gingrich's showing was the best by a possible 2012 candidate with no visible organization at the event. (Palin's "SarahPAC" had distributed caribou-infused beef jerky before her speech.) Tim Pawlenty, who addressed the crowd via a recorded video, won 3 percent, as did Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who won several standing ovations and spoke to bloggers to drum up buzz. Former senator Rick Santorum scored 2 percent; former governor Gary Johnson brought up the rear with 2 percent.

By David Weigel  |  April 10, 2010; 7:01 PM ET
Categories:  2012 Election , Mitt Romney , Ron Paul , SRLC  
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