Mitt Romney won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday with 38 percent of the vote, 7 points ahead of Rick Santorum, who placed second.
The straw poll is essentially an in-house election for the Republican Party's most conservative activists, the several thousand people who attended CPAC. It is not a scientific survey--its results cannot be extrapolated to national public opinion, even among the subset of conservatives.
Since the conference began holding the straw poll in 1976, CPAC attendees have chosen only two candidates who would later become the Republican presidential nominee: Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and George W. Bush in 2000.
But the win is still a much-needed sign of strength among conservatives for Romney, who has struggled to gain the support of his party's base.
Newt Gingrich came in third with 15 percent, followed by Ron Paul, who received 12 percent.
With the exception of Paul, each of the Republican presidential candidates spoke at the three-day conference on Friday.
Romney won the straw poll for three consecutive years from 2007 to 2009, before groups supporting Paul began organizing to win the contest in 2010 and 2011.
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