NEW ORLEANS — As has become typical at GOP cattle calls, Ron Paul captured the presidential straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference here, easily besting his nearest competitor, Jon Huntsman.
Paul won 612 votes to Huntsman's 382. Michele Bachmann came in third with 191 votes and Herman Cain finished behind her, taking 104 votes.
Paul was edged by one vote at this same event last year, but this straw poll success has become de rigeur at such gatherings. And, just as they have at recent CPACs, Paul's backers in the crowd here let out loud cheers when the results were announced from the stage while the regular Republicans in the audience booed the Libertarian-leaning Texas congressman's success.
The more notable result was Huntsman's second place. The former ambassador was slated to speak to the confab, but backed out, citing a cold. That the little-known and pragmatic Huntsman would finish between Paul and Bachmann — each of whom enjoy a passionate following among more ideological activists — is surprising.
Rumors circulated here that Huntsman campaign had paid for supporters to attend the conference and a spokesman for the candidate, Tim MIller, didn't deny that they had.
"Not commenting on internal strategy," said Miller, adding: "The result demonstrates that young conservatives are responding to his record of success in Utah, willingness to take the debt problem seriously, and foreign policy message,"
The GOP's effective frontrunner Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Paul here last year but got only 74 votes this time. Romney didn't show up this year. Neither did Tim Pawlenty, who won just 18 votes.
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