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Mitt Romney Wins Presidential Straw Poll at Republican Leadership Conference

  • Mitt Romney

    Mitt Romney (AP)

  • pence_041010

    Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., speaks at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Saturday, April 10, 2010. (AP)

The person who didn't attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference won the 2012 GOP presidential straw poll.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won the straw poll by one vote over Rep. Ron Paul, 438-437.

Sarah Palin finished in third place with 330 votes, while Newt Gingrich rounded it out with 321 votes.

Several potential candidates addressed the three-day gathering which ended Saturday.

Eyeing another presidential bid, Texas Rep. Ron Paul told Republican activists that "the American people have awoken" because Washington won't address the nation's fiscal crisis.

Paul ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. 

Paul brought to the event a large contingent of boisterous supporters. Following Paul's lead, they booed some traditional GOP policies that lead to government spending.

"The reason why the American people have awoken ... is because the country is broke and the people in Washington won't admit it," Paul said.

Evoking the memory of Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told Republicans that the policies of President Obama and other Democrats are a "man-made disaster."

He took the stage after a slick video paid homage to Barbour himself and his fellow GOP governors.

After recalling the 2005 hurricane, Barbour said, "Today we're here because we know we have to deal with a man-made disaster."

Barbour has not declared his intentions for the 2012 White House race.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, considered by GOP leaders to be a potential 2012 presidential candidate, vowed that House Republicans will repeal Obama's health care overhaul law "lock, stock and barrel."

In a fiery speech, Pence, a conservative Republican with a growing but limited presence on the national political stage, noted that Obama recently dared the GOP to try to repeal the law. Pence says his response to Obama is, "count on it."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum told fellow Republicans that the party failed the conservative movement when the GOP controlled Congress and the White House.

The former Pennsylvania senator said some Republicans were guilty of growing the size of government earlier this decade.

"Conservatives didn't fail America," he said. "Conservatives failed conservatism."

There will also be a so-called straw poll on who should be the party's 2012 nominee. After the speeches, the 3,000-plus conference attendees cast their ballots.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.