- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rep. Ron Paul once again crashed someone else’s party and came away as the life of it.

The Texas Republican’s libertarian leanings don’t sit well with many conservatives in his party, but his fiercely loyal band of supporters showed up in droves Saturday at the socially conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington to push him to the top of its GOP presidential candidate straw poll. He crushed two of the race’s favorites, Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, along the way.

Mr. Paul, with 37 percent of the 1,983 votes, also outpaced Herman Cain - who has surged in recent pools and won a Florida straw poll last month - by 14 percentage points.

Dr. Paul’s standing among Christian conservative voters is growing as people become more familiar with the man as well as the message,” said Jesse Benton, Mr. Paul’s campaign chairman.

The outspoken lawmaker paradoxically won the event’s vice presidential straw poll as well, edging out Mr. Cain, GOP presidential rival Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and rising party star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Paul, who significantly trails in most national polls and is considered a long shot to win the GOP presidential nomination, often has success in straw polls thanks to his persistent support base.

Saturday’s results, while not a shock, nonetheless dampened the mood for many at the event who complained Paul backers unfairly were “bused in” to stuff the ballot box.

Of the 3,400 people who registered for the three-day event at the Omni Shoreham Hotel that began Friday, more than 600 signed up Saturday morning just prior to the straw poll’s noon closing time.

Event organizer Tony Perkins said it was uncertain how many late arrivers were Paul supporters. But he acknowledged that “Ron Paul and his campaign is very well organized in showing up for straw polls.”

“We’ve done everything to preserve integrity of the straw poll,” said Mr. Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, whose lobbying arm sponsored the event.

Mr. Perkins, an influential figure in the American conservative movement, declined to say whether he was disappointed in the poll results, instead saying that conservative voters “are still in the process of deciding where they want to go.”

Mr. Paul didn’t disappoint his backers during his Saturday speech at the event, touching on his usual anti-government, anti-debt and pro-family messages.

“Our government should be strictly limited to the protection of the liberties that allow us to thrive,” Mr. Paul said to a roaring cheer. “Our liberties and our economy, they are under attack today.”

But Mr. Paul undoubtedly made many conservatives uncomfortable with his anti-war rhetoric, spending several minutes questioning the nation’s current military operations as well as the general principle of armed conflict.

“Christ was recognized to be the prince of peace - he was never recognized as the promoter of war,” he said. “War [can] be necessary but only under dire circumstances, and it should done with great caution.”

Mr. Perkins, when asked to explain the poor performance of Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney - who earned 8 percent and 4 percent of the vote, respectively - replied that “the field is still somewhat fluid.”

“This is really a testing ground for what it’s going to take for someone to capture the Republican nomination” for president, he said.

But he added “they’ve got work to do” in order to woo the conservative vote.

“There is still the hearts and the minds and the passions of the values voter that still need to be won,” he said.

To further complicate Mr. Perkins‘ weekend, he had to deal with comments regarding Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith.

On Friday, Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor and Perry supporter who introduced the Texas governor before his address at the summit, told a reporter the Mormon faith was a “cult.”

Mr. Romney didn’t raise the issue during his speech the following morning.

He did, however, knock the speaker after him, Bryan Fischer of the conservative Christian group the American Family Association, who has questioned whether Mormonism is a Christian faith.

“We should remember that decency and civility are values, too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line,” said Mr. Romney without directly naming Mr. Fischer. “Poisonous language does not advance our cause.”

Mr. Perkins said he was disappointed over the “distraction” of Mr. Jeffress’ comments, but added that “I think every year we’ve had some form of controversy.”

“You can’t have this many people together, this many different speakers, this many different organizations, and not have something happen,” he said. “But we’re not going to get distracted by that. Again, our focus is building a coalition based on shared values.”

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