Washington (CNN) - OK. We admit it. We, along with the rest of the national political press corps, will be fixated Saturday on the results of the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Balloting will be open to the 11,000 conference-goers until Friday evening and the results will be revealed Saturday afternoon at conclusion of the three-day event, which is the largest annual gathering of conservative activists from across the country. And with just under a year to go until the start of the Republican presidential primary and caucus season, this year's event is considered the first real cattle call for probable and possible GOP White House hopefuls.
But how accurate a barometer is the straw poll of the wider pool of GOP primary and caucus voters?
Jack Kemp won the straw poll in 1987, the year before 1988 presidential election. Vice President George H.W. Bush ended up winning the party's presidential nomination.
In 1995, Phil Gramm came out on top at CPAC. But Sen. Bob Dole ended up taking the GOP nomination. Gary Bauer was the winner in 1999, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the nomination the next year.
Four years ago former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney captured the straw poll at CPAC, the first of his three victories at the conference. Romney used his appearance at the 2008 conference to end his bid for the GOP nomination, which as we all remember was won by Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Not such a great track record.
"Straw polls are more of an anecdotal measurement than an empirical one. It's not as representative a sample of the actual voters participating in the primaries and caucuses around the country," Kevin Madden tells CNN.
Madden is a Republican strategist who served as national press secretary for Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.
But just because straw polls don't always, or even often, get it right, there are still plenty of reasons to keep an eye on them.
"Straw polls can be a scrimmage in the game of expectations. They can help unknown candidacies gain traction with a surprisingly strong performance, or they can hurt top-tier candidacies with a weak performance," adds Madden. "They can also serve as a display or organizational muscle, given that some campaigns decide to use straw polls to fine-tune or showcase their on-the-ground organizational skills."
And Madden should know.
Romney's 2007 victory at the CPAC did give his bid for the White House a boost.
"It helped us generate some buzz at a time where, in national polls, Gov. Romney was still only at three or four percent. That win showed we were organized and efficient and had an ability to drive a contrast with Sen. McCain who, while he enjoyed 100 percent name recognition, had struggled with building support among conservative grassroots activists and voters," says Madden.
The candidates on this year's CPAC ballot, listed in alphabetical order, are: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former talk show host Herman Cain, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (Christie repeatedly says he has no interest in running), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and South Dakota Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
The ballot also leaves space for a write-in candidate.
Write-in efforts are being organized at the conference in support of several dark horse candidates, including real estate mogul Donald Trump, who spoke at the conference on Thursday, and the gun-toting former Alabama Agricultural Commissioner candidate Dale Peterson, whose quirky campaign ad became a YouTube hit in 2010.