NEW ORLEANS -- Ron Paul won the straw poll here at the Republican Leadership Conference overwhelmingly with 612 votes, drawing big boos and some quieter chants of "Ron Paul." Jon Huntsman finished a surprising second with 382 votes, despite being a late scratch because of a "bad cold." Michele Bachmann was third with 191 votes.
Herman Cain was fourth with 104 votes. Mitt Romney, the presumed front runner, who won the straw poll here a year ago, faded to fifth with 74 votes. Tim Pawlenty finished with just 18 votes, fourth from the bottom of the 12-person ballot, just ahead of Gary Johnson (10), Buddy Roemer (9), and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (2).
Paul’s ardent followers packed the ballroom here before, during, and just after his speech, but they were barely seen listening to other speeches. They have organized to win straw polls at many other conservative events as well.
Romney, who did not attend this year or last, was criticized here for not signing onto a legislative pledge from anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List. The group released the list of presidential candidates who signed onto the pledge yesterday afternoon. Most signed on; Romney did not.
That drew an attack from Rick Santorum:
"This past Monday night at the Republican Presidential Debate, I was asked about Governor Romney's pro-life conversion, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt," the former Pennsylvania senator running for president said in a statement."I apparently spoke too soon. It is incredibly disappointing that Governor Romney chose not to defend those who cannot defend themselves."
Romney's campaign responded in a statement to First Read this way:
"Governor Romney pledged in the last campaign that he would be a pro-life president and of course he pledges it today. However, this well intentioned effort has some potentially unforeseen consequences and he does not feel he could in good conscience sign it. Gov. Romney has been a strong supporter of the SBA List in the past and he looks forward to continue working with them to promote a culture of life."
A Romney adviser said on background that the SBA language goes too far, and would cut off funding to VA hospitals:
"The language in the pledge is to 'permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion' (which the Gov. supports) but then goes on to say 'and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions' -- which you can see is very over-reaching and would include hospitals across the country."