By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; A02
The Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual rite of passage for Republicans with an eye on the presidency, concluded over the weekend with Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) emerging as the winner of the gathering's 2012 straw poll.
But sometimes winning can actually be closer to losing - as in Paul's case - and losing (or at least not finishing in the top few in the straw poll) can mask a winning performance at the three-day convention.
Below is the Fix's look at some of the less obvious winners and losers from CPAC.Winners
l Mitt Romney: For the former Massachusetts governor, the expected front-runner in the 2012 nomination fight, his goal with his CPAC speech was to do no harm. He did far better than that with a very well-received address and a strong second-place finish in the straw poll. If any top-tier candidate came out of CPAC with a stronger hand, it was Romney.
l Mitch Daniels: The Indiana governor's sobering speech about the danger of the country's growing debt was a sharp contrast to the red-meat-heavy addresses of his potential 2012 rivals. Although the speech was received politely in the hall, it was met with effusive praise by the party's smart set, the national media and, interestingly, the Drudge Report.
l Michele Bachmann: No candidate benefited more from the absence of social-conservative rock stars Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee than the Minnesota congresswoman. Bachmann's speech kicking off CPAC had the crowd on its feet, and she was surrounded by admirers everywhere she went at the convention.
l Rick Perry: The Texas governor may have had the toughest speaking slot of the three-day conference, as his address came directly after Paul delivered his remarks. As hundreds of Paul-ites were shuffling out of the room, Perry took the stage to tout his now-familiar message of states' rights and anti-Washington rhetoric. By the end of the address, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand - proving again that if he reconsiders his past pledge not to run for president, he will be a formidable force.
l Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor - and national conservative sensation - didn't address the CPAC crowd but still managed to tie for third place in the straw poll, beating out many wannabes who did speak.Losers
l Ron Paul: Yes, he won the straw poll for the second straight year. But his speech - heavy on talk of defunding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as odd pronouncements such as "Government should never be able to do anything you can't do" - displayed the limits of his reach within the GOP. Paul is a sensation, but among only a sliver of the Republican electorate.
l Rick Santorum: CPAC attendees should have been a perfect fit for the former senator's brand of social conservatism. And for those who watched his speech, Santorum (Pa.) did just fine. But, the room was less than two-thirds full during his remarks - an attendance issue that highlighted his potential difficulties in breaking through in the crowded field.
l Orrin Hatch: On one hand, the Utah senator's willingness to face down his conservative critics at CPAC is worthy of admiration. On the other, his rocky reception could presage problems for him next year as he seeks the nomination. Asked about his vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2008, Hatch acknowledged that voting for the legislation was "probably" a mistake before pivoting to note that the country would have gone into an economic depression without TARP.