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Posted at 5:34 PM ET, 02/12/2011

Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll

By Chris Cillizza and Rachel Weiner

Ron Paul emerged victorious in the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual presidential straw poll, the second straight year that the libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman has won the vote.

Paul took 30 percent while former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) placed second with 23 percent. No other candidate received double digit support.

A total of 3,742 people -- roughly a third of total CPAC attendees -- cast votes.

Paul, who ran for president in 2008, is weighing another bid in 2012. He is considered a considerable longshot despite his loyal following among young people who are drawn to his less government messaging.

The history of CPAC straw poll winners affirms the limits of using it as a prognosticator of much of anything.

Romney won the CPAC straw vote in 2007, 2008 and 2009 but was unable to beat out Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for the GOP presidential nod.

Candidates and their campaigns adopted a "whatever happens, happens" approach to the straw poll even while noting potential irregularities -- voting closed at 2 pm Friday rather than 5 pm, according to one camp -- and spinning the results in favor of their preferred nominee.

In the end, however, the results of the straw poll matter far less than the speeches delivered at the three-day gathering of conservatives from across the country.

The eight potential 2012 candidates who addressed CPAC took widely variant approaches to the task.

Establishment candidates like Romney, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) played it safe with solid speeches designed to draw polite if not uproarious applause from the crowd.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels (Ind.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) delivered detail-heavy addresses that evoked nothing so much as college lectures.

Paul and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) served up slab after slab of rhetorical red meat -- and the CPAC crowd ate up every word.

(Paul's crowd overlaps with the CPAC crowd but with its support of closing down the Federal Reserve and pulling out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Paul-ites are decidedly out of step with the GOP base on several major issues.)

Not surprisingly, the candidates most willing to play to the crowd won their votes. CPAC, while one of the major conservative gatherings of the year, represents a sliver of the actual Republican electorate.

The nomination will be won in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- not in a CPAC straw poll.

By Chris Cillizza and Rachel Weiner  | February 12, 2011; 5:34 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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