Ron Paul Wins GOP Straw Vote; Rick Perry Wins Hearts

Ron Paul Wins GOP Straw Vote; Rick Perry Wins Hearts

By Carl M. Cannon - June 18, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- Texas Rep. Ron Paul, riding the strength of his loyal, passionate -- and mostly young -- libertarian-minded enthusiasts, captured the presidential straw vote Saturday at the Republican Leadership Conference.

Out of 1,542 votes cast, the Texas congressman and libertarian hero earned 618 of them -- a decisive 39.7 percent in a field of 10. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who cancelled his scheduled appearance here due to a summer cold -- and whose aggressive straw vote efforts took place beneath the radar and were rumored to include paying the way of his supporters to New Orleans -- was second with 24.8 percent. Michele Bachmann came in third at 12.4 percent.

Mitt Romney, who leads the GOP field in fundraising, name identification and national polling, finished a distant fifth, behind pizza magnate Herman Cain. Romney, who made a point of not signing a sweeping pro-life pledge offered by the Susan B. Anthony List because he thought it went too far, did not even reach 5 percent. The rest of the field, in order, was Newt Gingrich (4.5 percent), Sarah Palin (2.7 percent), Rick Santorum (2 percent), Tim Pawlenty (1.2 percent), and Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer with less than 1 percent each.

The rolling tally was taken among the nearly 2,000 Republicans and activists who registered for the three-day conservative-palooza here. Such off-year straw polls make no pretense of being scientific -- and they certainly aren't predictive of the eventual winner -- but for Ron Paul's avid admirers they constituted a satisfying payback for a one-vote loss to Romney in last year's straw vote.

"They made an all-out effort," said Benjamin Pridgen, a 24-year-old Ron Paul loyalist from New Orleans. Asked if he thought Paul's showing would really change anything, Pridgen shrugged as if to say that he was happy with having cast a principled vote. "I like Ron Paul because he actually sticks to the Constitution," he said. "He supports individual rights."

Asked who might be his second choice, Pridgen replied: "I don't really have a clear second choice, but it would be Palin or Bachmann."

Among the Republicans in attendance here, the anticipation Saturday wasn't for the straw vote results or Ron Paul, however. It was for the arrival of another Texas politician, Gov. Rick Perry, who wasn't listed on the straw poll ballot and who has so far left only cryptic hints that he might run for president in 2012. But Perry arrived here amid much fanfare late Saturday afternoon, and delivered a rousing and well-received speech to a packed auditorium.

After three days and dozens of speeches bashing President Obama and liberalism, this crowd didn't need to hear a lot more of it, but Perry distilled his critique of the administration into a single phrase: "Too much interference, too much spending, and too much apologizing."

Displaying undeniable presence from the podium, Perry did the obligatory invoking of Ronald Reagan, but to a specific purpose: to forcefully assert his view that the two great strains of the modern Republican Party -- economic libertarianism and social conservatism -- are not incompatible. "Our party cannot listen to our loudest opponents on the left," he said, in a subtle dig at Mitt Romney. "They are never going to like us, so it's time we stopped trying to curry favor with them."

When he finished, the crowd rose to its feet and -- in the loudest and most spontaneous demonstration of the three-day meeting -- broke into a clapping chant, "Run, Rick, run! Run, Rick, run!"

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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