Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Saturday won a 2012 presidential-preference straw poll of social and religious conservative activists from 49 states gathered in Washington, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said at an afternoon press briefing at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
It was sweet revenge for Mr. Huckabee, who narrowly lost a similar poll in 2007 to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Only in-person voting was permitted in this vote Mr. Romney had won with combined Internet and in-person voting.
On Saturday, Mr. Huckabee took 28.48 percent of the vote, while Mr. Romney was in a four-way tie for second place with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence. All four won 12 percent of the vote in rounded numbers.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich placed fifth. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and the “undecided” option finished with less than 4 percent each.
Abortion ranked first among issues of concern to straw-poll voters, getting 41 percent of the vote, with protection of religious liberty second with 18 percent.
Opposition to same-sex marriage was third at 7 percent. Prayer in public schools, once a major concern among religious and social conservatives, ranked a surprising 10th place in the poll. The issue has dropped off the radar in recent years as more conservatives, including summit participants, school their children at home or send them to private or parochial schools.
Another big surprise, veteran summit participants said, was Mr. Pawlenty’s Friday evening speech, which went over exceptionally well with an audience that knew little about him until he spoke. Mr. Pawlenty, who many religious conservatives said they assumed was a social moderate, given that he is from Minnesota, quoted from the Bible and had much of the audience virtually transfixed and quoting the same passages with him.
Mr. Huckabee was expected to be a favorite among the “values voters” in part because they consider him to be the real thing a former Southern Baptist minister who still preaches the same things they believe about morality and what they see as the legitimate role of religion in public places.
Another crowd-pleaser on Saturday was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking a third elected term next year; he faces a tougher than expected Republican nomination challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is resigning this fall, and he asked that his name be removed from the straw-poll ballot.
About a third, or 597 of the nearly 2,000 summit participants, voted standard in such straw polls.
The audience that filled the Omni Shoreham ballroom seemed to have no clear favorite when it came to how the four key speakers did. All are possible 2012 Republican nomination contenders.
“Pawlenty and Romney, I thought it was close between them for who did best, though Huckabee was entertaining,” said Richard Perkins of Baton Rouge, La., father of Tony Perkins, whose Family Research Council normally the sole summit sponsor this time co-sponsored the event with the Heritage Foundation, for many years considered the premier conservative think tank in Washington.
“It was a toss-up between Pawlenty and Romney when it comes to the speeches here,” said Alan LaRue, a pastor from Angola, Ind.
But Sibyl Nelson, controller for a medical services company in Syracuse, Ind., said she liked Mr. Huckabee above all the other speakers. “He spoke about the values I have,” she said.