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Romney wins straw poll of Republican conservatives

WASHINGTON -- Presumed GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has won a straw poll of Republican voters at the American Conservative Union's annual CPAC conference in Washington.

Romney received 38 percent of Saturday's vote on the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, followed by Rick Santorum, who garnered 31 percent.

The win is likely to soothe concerns that Romney cannot shore up backing from conservatives wary of his past change of position on abortion and his onetime support for an individual health care mandate.

Romney told a packed audience here during remarks Friday that he is "severely conservative," while Santorum urged attendees not to choose a GOP nominee who cannot excite the conservative base.

"We always talk about how we are going to get the moderates," Santorum said in a clear reference to Romney. "Why would an undecided voter, vote for a candidate of a party that the party's not excited about?"

One-time Romney "alternative" hopeful Newt Gingrich came in third place with 15 percent of the straw poll vote. Rep. Ron Paul won just 12 percent support.  

Some 3,408 people voted in the straw poll, the second-highest number to participate in the poll.

Paul has won the poll for the last two years, but he did not participate in this year's conference.

The Texas congressman's past victories prompted organizers to change the format for the poll, doing away with paper ballots and offering online voting for participants.

The American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, also commissioned a national poll of 600 self-identified conservatives reached by telephone this Tuesday and Wednesday.

That survey showed Romney clocking in in first place with 27 percent, followed closely by Santorum at 25 percent. Third-place finisher Gingrich garnered 20 percent support in the national poll.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was the top choice for vice president among straw poll participants, while he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Romney backer, tied at 15 percent among the national poll respondents.

"This is the first time ever in 25 years that we've ever done a corollary survey that asks the same exact questions," ACU pollster Tony Fabrizio told reporters during a press conference before the release of the results.

The margin of error for the national poll was plus-minus 4 percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the top choice for vice president among straw poll participants, while he and New Jersey governor and Romney backer Chris Christie tied at 15 percent among the national poll respondents.