Former corporation chieftain Herman Cain edged out former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in The Washington Times/Conservative Leadership Conference straw poll in Henderson, Nev., on Saturday.
But, the surprise was Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Cain and Mr. Romney are declared 2012 nomination candidates, but Mr. Perry — who has not said whether he will enter the fray — nonetheless placed third in the poll.
CLC President Chuck Muth told The Washington Times that the poll reflects the desire of conservative voters to find one candidate around whom they can coalesce.
“The Perry placement is strange, since he hasn’t even said he will run,” Mr. Muth said. “How do I explain it? Conservatives are not completely content with the field of declared candidates and looking to a guy like Perry to bring them together.”
Mr. Perry has been showing increasing signs of becoming a favorite among conservative voters outside his state.
While Mr. Cain won 24 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Romney’s 21 percent, Mr. Perry won a surprising 17 percent.
Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a declared nomination hopeful and another favorite among some conservatives, placed fourth with 16 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul was fifth with 8 percent.
The other potential and declared candidates whose names were on the straw poll ballot received negligible portions of the vote, organizers said.
Overall, Mr. Romney looks like the real power house in the field at the moment. He leads the field of GOP hopefuls by 13.7 percentage points in a Real Clear Politics average of the latest major national polls.
More than 200 conservatives attended the conference, with almost all of them casting straw-poll ballots for presidential nomination choices and a number of other questions.
Decriminalizing and regulating the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana won 51 percent of the votes cast.
Nevadans went by a margin of 12.5 percentage points to President Obama in 2008, but Mr. Muth struck a hopeful note.
“The results of today’s straw poll give us a strong indication of the direction that conservatives are heading,” Mr. Muth said. “In 2010, we elected more conservatives to the state legislature than in previous years — an indication that the conservative movement throughout the state is growing.”