Conservatives Pick Romney in Unscientific Straw Poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a presidential preference straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this weekend.

Twenty-one percent of those who took the poll chose Romney. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani came in second with 17 percent of the vote, followed by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The poll is unscientific and may have been influenced by the busloads of young Republicans Romney's campaign brought in from out of state.

Regardless of the results, conservatives remain in a quandary. They're not satisfied with the party's frontrunners -- Giuliani, McCain and Romney.

"I don't like the fact that some of them aren't conservative on social issues, some are not conservative on economic issues," said Robert Cruciger, a conservative activist from Ohio. "I think we need an all-around candidate who's conservative on both."

"There's nobody that stands out in my mind," said Mike Sparling of Michigan.

"They're looking for Ronald Reagan," said John Cox, who is running a self-financed campaign for president. "They're looking for a true statesman."

Sensing opportunity, lesser-known candidates such as former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arizona Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado tried to persuade conservatives they don't have to settle.

During his speech today, Gilmore borrowed a line from former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and thundered, "I want to represent the Republican wing of the Republican Party!"

McCain was the only Republican contender to skip the event. Huckabee said that's a mistake.

"CPAC brings together not just sort of peripheral activists, but the people who lead movements," he said. "So getting a message here, and connecting and resonating with the people of this group, is really resonating with the heart and soul of the Republican Party."

But today, candidates were distancing themselves from one of the speakers CPAC featured Friday -- vitriolic, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter.

She told the audience, "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I-- So kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards."

Both the Democratic National Committee and The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay civil rights organization, strongly condemned Coulter's remarks and called on those Republican leaders in attendance to follow suit.

Giuliani's campaign released a statement to ABC News saying, "The comments were completely inappropriate and there should be no place for such name calling in political debate. Although John Edwards and I have differences in ideas and approach, he is a good man who I respect and admire for his commitment to public service."

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said, "It was an offensive remark. Political discourse ought to be more substantive."

Romney himself seemed to predict what happened. Before Coulter took the stage, he quipped, "You will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. I think it is always very important to get the views of moderates!"

In the meantime, some conservatives are making do with the candidates they have, forsaking principle for practicality. According to the latest ABC News poll, Giuliani has surged among Republicans in the last month to 44 percent from 34 percent. Most of the movement is due to evangelical white Protestants. In February, 44 percent chose him compared to 28 percent the month before.

Pro-life Republican Kathy Rothschild said the explanation is simple. Security comes first.

"The number one issue is to protect everyone in America, all of our children, born and unborn," she said.

For others, winning matters most, even if they have to vote for Giuliani or McCain.

"If that was who the Republicans and conservatives put forward versus Hillary Clinton or the gentleman from Illinois, I would have no choice," said Sparling.

"If they were the only game in town vis-a-vis a Democrat, particularly Hillary," said Lynn Cheramie, a Republican from Mississippi, "you bet your sweet bippy I would."