WASHINGTON -- Texas Rep. Ron Paul won the 2012 presidential straw poll of conservative activists at the Saturday windup of the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
The announcement of Mr. Paul's win was greeted with a mixture of loud jeers and equally loud cheers, illustrating the fragility -- despite the conference's three days of emphasized unity -- of the coalition of economic, foreign policy and traditional values conservatives on which the Republican party relies for electoral success.
A libertarian Republican whose opposition to the nation-building foreign policy of the second President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress, Mr. Paul, a one-time presidential hopeful, beat out other big-name Republicans, capturing 31 percent of the straw ballots cast by 2,395 registered CPAC attendees. Organizers said 10,000 people registered for CPAC this year, with exhibits, speeches and other events taking place on two floors of the huge hotel.
The informal poll's results were released shortly after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted in an appearance at CPAC that Republicans would win back control of both the Senate and the House this year and then the presidency in three years.
"I believe we are gong to control the House and Senate by the end of this year and of the White House in 2012," Mr. Gingrich said.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the 2008 and 2009 CPAC presidential straw polls, this time placed second with 22 percent, and was followed far behind by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indian Rep. Milke Pence and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, each in single digits.
Mr. Paul, whose unsuccessful 2008 GOP presidential nomination candidacy saw the largest one-day fundraising total on the Internet, was the choice of a plurality of conservative activists from around the country.
To the consternation of many conference attendees who favor a continuation of the Bush interventionist foreign policy, Mr. Paul drew a wildly cheering overflow -- and mostly youthful -- audience in a speech to more than 1,200 conservatives in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel ballroom.
Mr. Gingrich, in his address on Saturday, became the first Republican of major stature to predict an electoral trifecta.
There seemed to be little correlation between the candidates' straw poll standings and the audience they drew for speeches. Only Mr. Paul, Mr. Gingrich, television personality Glenn Beck and author-humorist Ann Coulter, the latter pair who are not considered potential presidential hopefuls, attracted standing-room-only crowds.
Glenn Beck, in a conference wrap-up speech that had flash-bulbs flickering throughout, drew an audience that filled the 1,000-person capacity ballroom and spilled out into the hallway.
When former Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance Thursday at the conference, he became the first high-profile Republican to predict that Mr. Obama was be a one-term president.
Mr. Gingrich, a successful GOP political strategist and intellectual who is also a favorite of center-right audiences, managed to win waves of applause on Saturday, including when he attributed a quotation in his speech to French existential philosopher and novelist Albert Camus.
Mr. Gingrich credited President Obama with creating at least three new jobs -- the changing of the governorships in New Jersey and Virgina and of the Massachussetts Senate seat from Democratic to Republican hands.
In a question-and-answer session after her speech, Miss Coulter was asked if she ever has dated liberals. "They weren't liberals for long," she replied.