Mitt Romney won a presidential preference straw poll of party activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, giving him a morale boost after a trio of losses earlier in the week that suggested the Republican base was still cool to the tentative front-runner.
Romney was the choice of 38% of the 3,408 CPAC attendees who voted in the poll, and Rick Santorum finished second with 31%. Newt Gingrich won 15% and Ron Paul had 12%.
Romney, Santorum and Gingrich addressed the conference on Friday. In his speech, Romney described himself as having been a "severely conservative" governor and a Washington outsider.
On Tuesday, Santorum won caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, and a primary in Missouri. None of those contests awarded convention delegates, but the results nonetheless halted momentum for the former Massachusetts governor after wins the week before in Florida and Nevada.
Paul won the straw poll at the 2011 gathering. The CPAC sponsor, the American Conservative Union, made changes to how the poll was conducted after criticism that supporters of Paul tilted the result by registering attendees for a single day solely for the purpose of voting.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who addressed the conference on Thursday, was the lead choice among attendees for vice president, with 34%.