NEW ORLEANS — Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) won the straw poll Saturday at the Republican Leadership Conference, winning a contest in which many top presidential candidates did not actively participate.

Paul, who typically does well in straw polls thanks to an active, mobile and outspoken base of support, took 612 votes, finishing well ahead of the second-place finisher, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who won 382 votes.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, coming off a strong debate performance on Monday, finished in third with 191 votes.

The straw poll took on diminished significance due to the absence of several top GOP contenders from the annual presidential cattle call. Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty did not appear at the conference, which was formerly known as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Also, potential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is set to speak Saturday afternoon, asked not to be included on the ballot.

The final results were as follows: Paul 612, Huntsman 382, Bachmann 191, businessman Herman Cain 104, Romney 74, former House speaker Newt Gingrich 69, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin 41, former senator Rick Santorum 30, Pawlenty 18, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson 10, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer 9, and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) 2.

Huntsman’s showing was considered particularly impressive, given that he has not officially announced his candidacy and is thought to have potential problems with the conservative base. They include his positions favoring civil unions for gays and lesbians and his service as President Obama’s ambassador to China.

Hunstman spokesman Tim Miller would not say what kind of effort the campaign put forth for the straw poll, citing internal strategy.

“The result demonstrates that young conservatives are responding with enthusiasm to his record of success in Utah, willingness to take the debt problem seriously, and foreign policy message,” Miller said.

Bachmann and Cain clearly wooed activists at the gathering, and finishing ahead of Romney, Gingrich and Pawlenty shows the momentum they have gained among conservative voters in recent weeks.

Romney, Pawlenty and Palin did not do well but have done nothing to indicate that they were actively participating in the straw poll.

Romney won the straw poll in 2010, beating Paul by one vote despite not physically appearing at the conference.

But Romney, the nominal frontrunner for the GOP nomination this year, has announced that his team will not be actively taking part in straw polls this time — a move that is seen as geared towards scaling back expectations in the August straw poll in Ames, Iowa, which is generally seen as the most important poll of gathered activists.

Palin did far better last year, taking 18 percent of all votes. Pawlenty did about the same.