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Romney loses NV straw poll

***UPDATE***Correction: An earlier version of this post had incorrect straw poll results. Romney was NOT fourth, but second. The post below is now correct.

From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike

SPARKS, Nev. – Ron Paul won the GOP presidential straw poll conducted by organizers at the Conservative Leadership Conference held at the Nugget Casino this weekend "by a large margin," according to an organizer.

Paul won with 33 percent, Romney came in second with 16 percent and Duncan Hunter was just behind with 15 percent. "Undecided" was fourth with 11 percent, and Thompson and Giuliani were next and ahead of the rest of the pack -- all in single digits. Raw numbers haven't been provided, but there were approximately 430 registrants at the opening of the conference.

Although many of the Republican presidential teams had surrogates representing them at the conference, Mitt Romney and Duncan Hunter were the only candidates to speak at the conference, and the victor himself was not there.

Libertarian sentiment dominated the conference, and a number of attendees expressed disappointment with the Republican Party for not catering to many of their views. Several speakers explained that they were looking to move on, echoing much of the discontent that came out of the meeting of the Council for National Policy in Salt Lake City late last month.

In fact, American Target Advertising Chairman Richard Viguerie, who said he was part of the strategic meetings in Salt Lake City, said Thursday night that even though he has agreed not to support Giuliani, Thompson or McCain, he's still not close to declaring support for Romney or any other lower tier candidates because they are still actively and seriously courting conservatives. "Why would we stop the flow of flowers and candy?" he said.

Almost on cue, Romney said during his speech the next day to the group, "I'm from the Republican wing of the Republican Party," eliciting a negative response from some rival campaigns and the Democratic National Committee. The DNC jumped and noted that he stole Chairman Howard Dean's line from the previous election when he told voters he was "from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" before losing to John Kerry.  

Out of the malaise over the conference came several questions targeted to Romney urging him to explain why he could be the candidate who would change the party's direction. In particular, vastright founder Joseph Bentzel, whose start-up Web company with slogan "Powering Digital Conspiracy" has yet to launch, asked Romney at a town hall how the party can be re-brand, reform, refocus and re-launch after what he called is a phase of "pre-emptive defeatism" for the GOP. Romney gave a four-part answer, starting with his pitch, "Well, I think it helps to have a new face."

Romney went on to sound another theme of his: optimism. He called the Democrats pessimists and said his optimism could go a long way for the Republicans, and he moved onto a point similar to his first, that the country ought to be led by someone who hasn't spent an entire lifetime in politics. And he ended with a line that played well before the crowd of Reaganites, implying that his energy and passion could echo that of Ronald Reagan's.