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Mike Pence takes top spot in Values Voter Summit straw poll

By Felicia Sonmez

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) took the top spot Saturday in a presidential straw poll of social conservatives meeting in Washington, a surprise victory over last year's overwhelming favorite, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Pence placed first with 24 percent in the straw poll of 723 social conservatives at the Family Research Council's fifth annual Values Voter Summit. Huckabee took second place with 22 percent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came in third with 13 percent and former House speaker Newt Gingrich took fourth with 10 percent.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin took fifth with 7 percent. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, another potential 2012 GOP hopeful, took 1 percent of the straw poll vote.

Pence beat out 16 other leading Republicans on the straw poll ballot. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) were originally to appear on the ballot but asked to have their names removed. Pawlenty, who is on a trade mission in Asia, told reporters on a conference call Friday that he "didn't think it would be appropriate to participate" in the straw poll if he couldn't attend the summit.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that while the presidential election is a long way off, the straw poll is "definitive, or at least descriptive, in the type of candidate values voters will be looking for."

"I think Congressman Pence has been out challenging both parties on their fiscal policy and taking strong stands on social issues," Perkins said. "I think his record is becoming more well known."

Pence was one of seven candidates besides Jim DeMint (S.C.), Gingrich, Huckabee, McDonnell, Romney and Santorum who addressed the summit in person. He received the most raucous reception by far of the potential 2012 hopefuls, telling the crowd in his speech Friday that "our party must have the courage to produce a vision for a better America."

Asked whether he might be considering a White House bid, Pence told The Fix in a brief interview after his speech Friday morning, "I have no plans to run for president."

The straw poll results are rightly taken with a grain of salt given that only 723 of the summit's estimated 2,000 social conservatives participated.

But in a sign of Pence's rising popularity, he won the top spot in both the presidential and the vice presidential straw poll, beating out Palin by seven votes in the VP race.

Anne Billings, 72, of Olathe, Kan., said that she made up her mind after hearing Pence address the summit Friday morning.

"I thought his speech was excellent," Billings said. "I think he'd be very conservative, in the strictest sense of the word. He'll stand up and say no, even if it's with his party, he'll say no."

Both Huckabee and Palin have been thought to be ramping up their efforts at making a 2012 bid; polling shows Huckebee as the early front-runner among Iowa Republicans, and Palin addressed the Iowa Republican Party's annual Reagan Day dinner Friday.

Billings said that she heard Palin speak in Kansas City, Mo., last week and thought that she was "a lot stronger than I was giving her credit for."

"I think she's something to be reckoned with, but I really in my heart of hearts don't think she's ready for the presidency yet, but I think she'd make a good vice president," she said.

By Felicia Sonmez  | September 18, 2010; 3:57 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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Next: Neil Abercrombie wins Democratic gubernatorial nod in Hawaii

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