Romney finishes first in GOP presidential straw poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney eked out a one-vote victory Saturday in a presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. More than 1,800 delegates chose from a list of nine prospective candidates.

Romney, who ran for president in 2008 and skipped the conference, received 439 votes. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who also ran in 2008, finished second with 438 votes.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin finished third with 330 votes and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth with 321 votes. The rest of the field trailed far behind.

While ballyhooed -- at least by supporters of the winner -- such straw polls have usually proved meaningless. The late Sen. Alan Cranston of California, the Rev. Pat Robertson and then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas all won high-profile straw polls in their respective bids for president.

None came close to capturing their party’s nomination.

Four years ago, at a combined meeting of the Southern and Midwest Republican leadership conferences in Memphis, the winner was Bill Frist, then the home-state senator. He never entered the presidential race. Romney finished second.