NEW ORLEANS, La.--Rep. Ron Paul rode a wave of support from young activists to win a straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference here, his latest title fueled by a group of rabidly loyal fans who have little use for the rest of the GOP field.
Paul took 612 votes out of the 1,542 ballots cast. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman finished in second place with 382 ballots, while Rep. Michele Bachmann finished third with 191.
The straw poll, held at the annual gathering for thousands of Republican activists from across the South, lacked a serious push by any of the candidates considered the race's front-runners. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Huntsman all passed on the chance to address 2,000 activists from 38 states who gathered here.
Another potential front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was left off the straw poll ballot. He will address the conference later this afternoon.
Instead, the gathering has been dominated by second-tier contenders like Bachmann, Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, the one-time Speaker of the House. Over the course of three days, those candidates brought the crowd repeatedly to its feet.
Cain finished fourth, with 104 ballots, followed by Romney (74), Gingrich (69), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (41), Santorum (30), Pawlenty (18), former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (10), former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (9) and Rep. Thad McCotter (2).
No candidate attracts the fanatic loyalty Paul does. Organizers brought in extra chairs during Paul's speech on Friday, and fans packed shoulder to shoulder waving signs and interrupting their hero with chants.
It's Paul's second strong showing at the annual gathering of southern conservative activists in a row. In 2010, Paul finished just a single vote behind Mitt Romney.