Charleston, South Carolina (CNN) – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour won a presidential straw poll in the pivotal early primary state of South Carolina on Friday night.
The straw poll was conducted by the Charleston County Republican Party at its annual convention. Barbour, fresh off a trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, was the only potential 2012 candidate to address the crowd of nearly 200 GOP activists.
Barbour won 22 percent of the 148 votes cast. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished second with 12 percent.
In third place with 11 percent was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won another straw poll last weekend in socially conservative Greenville County. Social issues are less influential in Charleston, considered more fiscally conservative territory.
Businessman and television star Donald Trump finished fourth at 10 percent. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tied at nine percent, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul and pizza mogul Herman Cain tied at six percent.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty took five percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton rounded out the pack, scraping together only a handful of votes.
Barbour, making his first visit to the South Carolina coast as he lays the groundwork for a possible presidential bid, bonded with the Charleston crowd over the experience of recovering from a devastating hurricane.
For Barbour and Mississippi, it was Hurricane Katrina. For South Carolina, it was Hurricane Hugo, which battered the coast in 1989, killing 26 in the state and leaving 60,000 people homeless.
"People here in Charleston and all up and down the low country understand what it means to be clobbered by a mega-disaster, and what it takes to get back," Barbour said. "Y'all have done it very, very well and gracefully, and I hope that we in Mississippi can do as well."
The governor is making a two-day swing through South Carolina, a state that Barbour's advisers see as key to his presidential hopes should he decide to officially enter the 2012 race.
"If I run, I am going to run to win South Carolina," Barbour promised the audience. "To win South Carolina in my opinion means winning the low country. It means winning this part of South Carolina."
After his appearance at the Charleston convention, Barbour was spotted having a lengthy chat with South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, a local Tea Party hero and one of two African-American Republicans in Congress.
Barbour arrived in Charleston on Thursday night and spent Friday holding a series of private meetings with area Republicans, including state House Speaker Bobby Harrell. On Saturday, Barbour will attend two county party conventions in and around the state capital of Columbia.
Barbour said Charleston residents repeatedly raised the topic of Katrina with him on Friday.
"People have been bringing it up to me all day," he said. "Brought it up during the day, brought it up at lunch, brought it up at meetings. Someone told me they went to Pass Christian and volunteered."
Also in his speech Friday, Barbour warned darkly that President Obama's management of the economy is more dangerous than any natural disaster.
"Our country faces a crisis that is every bit as dangerous, except it is more pervasive and it will last much longer," he said. "We are recovering from Katrina so that today, five and a half years later, you can see that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is coming back bigger and better than ever. It will take us longer than that to undo the damage that has been done by this administration."