Two former governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, shared the limelight on Saturday, handily winning the top two spots in a straw poll of "values voters" conducted by the conservative Family Research Council in Washington.
In the straw poll Romney came in first with 1,595 votes, followed closely by Huckabee with 1,565.
Significantly, however, Huckabee won more than half of the 953 voters who voted at the conference; Romney received 99 votes among conference attendees, with the overwhelming majority of his support coming from voters online.
Ron Paul finished in third place with 865 votes, followed by former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson with 564 votes.
The straw poll, conducted online and at the conference, placed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in eighth place, second to last, behind Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who dropped out of the race on Friday, California Rep. Duncan Hunter and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo.
Arizona Sen. John McCain finished last, gathering 81 votes, or 1.4 percent.
In a 40-minute speech that drew respectful applause on Friday, Giuliani invoked, as he often does, Ronald Reagan's admonition that "my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."
"My belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that," Giuliani said. "But isn't it better for me to tell you what I believe rather than change my positions to fit the prevailing wind?"
It was among his better received lines.
"He won simply by coming," said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which sponsored the three-day conference. "He helped himself; he certainly didn't lose any ground."
But his reception was in stark contrast to the ovations for Huckabee, a one-time Baptist preacher who is a sentimental favorite of many religious conservatives.
Huckabee mixed humor, biblical references and the rhythms of a man used to the pulpit as he implored the crowd to put values above politics and not make expedient decisions.
He called for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman and decried the "holocaust of liberalized abortion."
"We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards," he said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Their GOP rivals, in speeches Friday, courted the conservative religious voters, who have a tradition of influence in elections.
People who paid a nominal $1 fee to join the council were eligible to vote in the online poll, which began in August.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.