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Pence wins Values Voter 2012 straw poll

A gathering of social conservatives selected Indiana Republican Mike Pence on Saturday as their top choice for the 2012 presidential ticket.

Pence, whose speech to the group Friday urged unabashed discussion of social issues as well as fiscal concerns in the run up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, won 24 percent of the vote in the presidential preference straw poll held at this year's Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C.

"Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life, marriage and religious liberty have forgotten the lessons of history," Pence said in his address at the gathering Friday. "America's darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles."

Pence received about 12 percent of the vote in last year's straw poll, coming in just behind former vice presidential nominee and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin.

Palin, who did not speak at the event this year, came in a distant fifth in this year's poll.

Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, who easily grabbed first place in the conference's 2009 poll, dropped to second place this year, receiving 22 percent of the vote.

Presumed presidential contender Mitt Romney, who narrowly won the top spot in the 2007 survey over Huckabee (although the result was disputed because of a wide divide in votes cast in-person and online), came in third, with 13 percent.

In his speech to the group on Friday, Romney concentrated on foreign policy and fiscal issues, doling out relatively few lines that catered to the attendees' strong opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke to the group Saturday morning, came in fourth.

Not appearing on the straw poll ballot was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who asked to be removed from the list because he was unable to attend the conference. He is concluding a trade mission in China and Japan this weekend.

Organizers added the name of Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana to the ballot after Pawlenty's was removed. Daniels, though rarely mentioned by name, was a frequent target for criticism by the summit's speakers --- notably by Pence -- for his statement that conservatives should declare a "truce" over social issues and coalesce around Republican proposals to control spending and jumpstart the economy.

Others on the ballot included Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

*** CORRECTION *** An earlier version of this post misidentified the state represented by Sen. John Thune. It is corrected above.