Derry, New Hampshire (CNN) - Mitt Romney claimed victory Saturday in a 2012 presidential straw poll conducted by the New Hampshire Republican Party, more than one year before the former Massachusetts governor is expected to be on a real ballot in the state's all-important presidential primary.
Romney captured 35 percent of the vote, which surveyed nearly 300 members of the New Hampshire State Republican Committee who gathered in Derry for the organization's annual meeting. He was followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who garnered 11 percent of the vote, while Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty won 8 percent.
They were trailed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 7 percent, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who each won 5 percent, and talk show host Herman Cain at 4 percent of the vote.
The rest of the 20-person field - a group that included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and real estate mogul Donald Trump - registered at 3 percent or less.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and South Dakota Sen. John Thune - two potential Republican contenders well known within the Beltway but untested in the states that make up the early part of presidential nominating calendar - both underperformed, netting 0 percent of the vote.
The poll was also sponsored by WMUR-TV and ABC News.
Romney's win was perhaps a foregone conclusion in New Hampshire, a state that has seen plenty of the former presidential candidate in recent years. He owns property in Wolfeboro, a town in the eastern part of the state, and maintains a deep reservoir of political support among Granite State Republicans.
Supporters of his potential 2012 rivals were eager to downplay the win, claiming that Romney should have won by a larger margin.
Romney, though, managed to beat back the conventional wisdom that he has problems connecting with Tea Party activists. He won a vote that canvassed a Tea Party-heavy crowd, which elected one of their own as state GOP chairman - businessman Jack Kimball - on the same day.
The straw poll was also something of an afterthought at the day-long proceedings. The poll's late addition to the meeting program - it was announced on Wednesday - caught many activists by surprise and largely headed off any attempts by potential candidates to influence the outcome.
Two of last year's high-profile straw polls, one held at the Conservative Political Action Conference and another at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, saw devotees of Paul and Romney aggressively campaigning to influence the vote (Paul won at CPAC, Romney at the SRLC).
But aside from a few supporters of Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Cain handing out leaflets and Dunkin Donuts "munchkins," there was not a whiff of active politicking from any of the possible presidential contenders at the New Hampshire meeting, held in a stuffy high school auditorium in Derry.
The buzz instead surrounded the hotly-contested campaign for the party chairmanship - a battle between the establishment-backed Juliana Bergeron and the more conservative Kimball, who had the support of the state's loose grassroots network of Tea Party and libertarian groups.
The fiery Kimball won by just 23 votes - in a tally of 222 to 199 - a defeat not just for his opponent but also for the now-former state GOP Chairman John Sununu, who endorsed Bergeron and campaigned fiercely on her behalf.
"We are going to send Barack Obama packing!" Kimball vowed after winning. "You all know that we are in a war, and we are going to win it. We are going to pull ourselves back from the brink. We are going to go after the Democrats the entire time."
Kimball immediately sought to mend a rift that opened during the chairmanship race between mainline Republicans, who backed Bergeron, and the grassroots insurgents who came out on top.
"I am a Republican, a Republican conservative who happens to come out of the Tea Party," he assured the committee. "But you will find those Reagan values in this guy."
In the days leading up to the vote, there were concerns that only a slice of the full 493-member committee would brave the snow and frigid temperatures to attend the annual meeting. The predictions were wrong. Party officials reported that 429 members showed up, and nearly all of them cast ballots in the chairman's race. Only 273 participated in the straw poll.
While New Hampshire had a libertarian anti-establishment streak long before the Tea Party movement emerged in early 2009, longtime GOP observers in the state agree that a newer generation of conservatives became energized during last year's midterm elections.
That much was clear in Derry, where men in hats donning Jack Kimball stickers mingled with Free Staters. One entrepreneur wandered through the crowded lobby hawking editions of a self-published parody of "The Cat in the Hat" that mocked President Barack Obama.
A vendor ran a booth selling knives and bumper stickers with slogans like "Obama Bin Lyin': Impeach Now!"
Meanwhile, the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire - one of the state's most visible Tea Party-aligned groups - ran a rival straw poll that permitted committee members to express a preference for multiple 2012 candidates.
Their poll featured a ballot with many of the same big names as the main straw poll, but with a few additions: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.