Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has won the presidential straw poll at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of more than 3,000 social conservatives in Washington.
Paul, who addressed the summit Saturday morning and whose supporters flooded the convention, took 37 percent in the informal poll, or 732 votes among the 1,983 attendees who participated in the survey.
Businessman Herman Cain placed second with 23 percent, or 447 votes; former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) took third with 16 percent, or 323 votes; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) placed fourth with 8 percent, or 167 votes.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took fifth with 8 percent, or 157 votes. And former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), who addressed the summit Saturday after Paul, placed sixth with 4 percent, garnering only 88 votes of the nearly 2,000 cast.
Romney and Perry have tangled over the past 24 hours since prominent evangelical leader Robert Jeffress called Romney's Mormon religion “a cult,” a charge with which Perry’s camp has said the Texas governor does not agree.
It’s worth noting that Paul’s success in the straw poll is indicative of the enthusiasm of his young supporters rather than of his popularity among the social conservatives who typically attend the conference, most of whom in interviews Saturday pointed to Cain as their preferred candidate.
Indeed, when the results were announced in the ballroom Saturday afternoon, young Paul backers could be heard chanting the candidate’s name while a few other attendees greeted the news with boos.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Saturday afternoon at a news conference announcing the straw poll results that “it’s still early in the process” to determine who will be the GOP nominee.
“You saw the response — Herman Cain had people on their feet; Rick Santorum connected with people,” Perkins said. “I think there’s still the hearts and the minds and the passions of the ‘values voters’ are still there to be won.”
He also defended the straw poll itself, noting that his organization had “not allowed campaigns to buy blocks of tickets, as they had attempted to do this year.”
“Let me just take you back four years to this event, when we had a straw poll,” Perkins said. “Mitt Romney won the straw poll that year. We’ve learned a lot of lessons about straw polls. We had online voting, which we have done away with. We have done everything to preserve the integrity of this straw poll.”
Evident among many attendees Saturday was the enthusiasm of social conservatives for Cain, who addressed the summit on Friday.
Ohio state auditor David Yost, who attended the summit with his wife, Darlene, said he appreciated “both [Cain’s] eloqence and the breadth of his vision.”
“A lot of the candidates come to a place like this, and their speeches almost sound like checklists of conservative issues,” Yost said, adding that Cain “really had more of a narrative that reminded me of a Ronald Reagan.”