ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas took the honors in the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans today, but it was Jon Huntsman who sprang a surprise with a strong second-place finish.
Paul won with 612 votes, followed by Huntsman with 382 and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota –- who won praise for her performance in Monday’s debate in New Hampshire -– in third with 191. Herman Cain came in fourth with 104 votes, with GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney rounding out the top five with 74 votes.
“This win is just the latest indicator of how the majority of American opinion is turning in Ron Paul’s direction,” Jesse Benton, Paul campaign chairman, said in a statement. “Listening to all the other speakers and candidates, you hear them saying the things that Dr. Paul has been saying for years, and they are saying it because they know that’s what Americans are looking for right now. The American people want and deserve someone who will tell them the truth, tell them what needs to be done, and who has an untouchable record of consistency to back it up.”
Newt Gingrich placed sixth with 69 votes, Sarah Palin seventh with 41 votes, Rick Santorum eighth with 30, and Tim Pawlenty ninth with 18.
Paul, who can count on a loyal and vocal but small base of supporters, spoke at the conference on Friday, while Huntsman canceled due to a cold. His wife Mary Kaye attended in his place. Rumors have been flying that Huntsman paid supporters to attend in an effort to boost their standing in the straw poll.
“The results reflect a lot of enthusiasm for Gov. Huntsman, particularly among young conservatives who are responding to his willingness to take the debt crisis seriously and foreign policy message,” Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said in a statement.
A spokesman for Cain, Ellen Carmichael, quipped in a tweet, “For those curious, we did not opt to buy discounted bulk tickets for RLC.”
Rick Perry, the governor from the neighboring state of Texas, was not included on the straw poll ballot.
ABC News’ Arlette Saenz, Sarah Kunin, & Jason Volack contributed to this report.