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Frist Wins, Romney Runs Strong Second

Frist won the Republican straw poll. (AP)

Memphis, Tenn. -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist won a much-needed victory Saturday night in the Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll, a win that could begin to revive his 2008 presidential prospects after a difficult year politically in 2005.

"We are gratified at the result of a lot of hard work," said Eric Ueland, Frist's chief of staff. "The leader is focused on '06 and our party is focused on a strong positive vision for '08."

While the Frist victory (with 37 percent of the vote) was somewhat expected, the strong second-place finish of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (14 percent) was a bit of a surprise.

Romney finished second in the poll of potential '08 presidential candidates. (AP)

Romney, who lost one of his top political advisers earlier today, has focused heavily on South Carolina during the early stages of the presidential campaign but did not appear to be running an organized effort here at the SRLC. Romney himself was not even in attendance when the results were announced, having already left for Iowa.

Virginia Sen. George Allen, who delivered perhaps the most rousing speech of the potential 2008 candidates at the conference, finished with 10 percent, a numerical tie with President George W. Bush, who benefited from a write-in campaign urged on by Arizona Sen. John McCain. Allen is also likely to be buoyed by the fact that roughly one in five Frist voters chose him as their preferred second choice.

McCain had previously urged conference attendees not to vote for him in the straw poll but still received 5 percent -- good enough for fourth place. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took 4 percent, just ahead of the three percent of voters who wrote in some other candidate.

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback had the weakest showing of the six aspiring national candidates to address the conference, finishing with just 1.5 percent of the vote. That total was just slightly higher than the 1.1 percent that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- the only major 2008 candidate not to attend the gathering -- received.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 11, 2006; 10:03 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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