WASHINGTON – Rep. Ron Paul of Texas turned out his well-organized crop of supporters Saturday and won a presidential preference straw poll with 37 percent of the vote.
Coming in second place in the poll of social conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit was retired pizza chain executive Herman Cain, who pulled in 23 percent of the vote.
Cain, who won a surprise victory in a straw poll last month in Florida, delivered a rousing speech Friday afternoon in which he joked about the pressure that comes with breaking into the “top tier” of candidates in the GOP primary race. Cain’s showing was considerably better than the two presumed front-runners. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn’t do so well. Perry won 8 percent, and Romney took just 4 percent.
The poll confirmed that with just a few months before the first nominating contests, the Republican presidential field is still unsettled.
For Perry, the result had to be a disappointment, as he’ll need the support of social conservatives to keep him competitive with Romney.
“They’re really analyzing the candidates, where they stand on the issues,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, the group that sponsored the three-day event. “The field is still fluid. … I think people are still in the process of deciding where they want to go.”
Paul’s victory was not exactly a surprise. The libertarian congressman has a loyal following and is known for his ability to organize a strong showing at such events.
The summit, which began Friday morning and featured speeches by all the major Republican presidential candidates except Jon Huntsman Jr., drew 3,406 registered attendees, including about 600 who arrived Saturday morning as Paul was scheduled to speak.
“There were a number of people that left after Ron Paul spoke,” Perkins said at a news conference after the results were announced, suggesting that Paul’s win reflects the devotion of his diehard supporters, not a broader preference held by most social conservatives.
Still, chants of “Ron Paul, Ron Paul” filled the ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel when the results were announced. Paul won 732 votes of 1,983 cast.