WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Values Voter Summit's 2012 presidential straw poll Saturday, grabbing nearly 29 percent of the vote in a crowded field.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence each won roughly 12 percent of the 597 votes cast.
Four of the top five candidates addressed religious conservatives at the three-day Values Voter conference in Washington this week - the kind of attendance seen as a significant gesture by activists here, especially in an off-election year. Palin did not make an appearance.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which hosted the conference, said Saturday that Huckabee had "potential," but stressed that the former governor's strong showing wouldn't translate into automatic support from the FRC's political action committee. "We want a fully-rounded conservative candidate," he said. "Right now, the door's wide open."
Mitt Romney's remarks here this week touched on social issues, but focused on economic and security policy. By contrast, Huckabee's speech dismissed calls for social and religious conservatives to move toward the center. "I'm not sure the center makes a whole lot of sense when it's coming from people who certainly don't have our interest, or our country's interest, at heart," he said.
The former Baptist minister nabbed a surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses last year, largely on the strength of grassroots support from religious conservative voters.
In his summit speech earlier Saturday, Romney stressed his unbroken string of conference appearances. Romney - a Mormon who has long made an effort to connect with evangelical voters - had nabbed victories in several similar recent measures of conservative presidential preference, including the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll earlier this year, and the last Values Voter Summit contest, held in 2007. He narrowly defeated Huckabee that year in a vote that was open to voters who cast their ballots over the Web. This year's vote was limited to conference attendees.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were the other candidates on the straw poll ballot. All grabbed single-digit shares of the vote.
The FRC said Saturday that they believed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of their 16 top congressional targets for 2010, was looking increasingly vulnerable. Other names on the list are Tom Perriello, Steve Driehaus, Glenn Nye, Betsy Markey, Walt Minnick, Parker Griffith, Alice Titus, Mary-Jo Kilroy, Ann Kirkpatrick, John Boccieri, and John Murtha in House races, and Robin Carnahan, Michael Bennet, Paul Hodes, Christopher Dodd and Harry Reid on the Senate side, all Democrats.
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