Rep. Ron Paul scored a decisive victory Saturday in a mock presidential election at the Values Voter Summit, trouncing fellow Texan, Gov. Rick Perry, but an organizer of the straw poll suggested ballot-stuffing may have skewed the results.
In a press conference following the announcement of the straw poll results at the annual Washington gathering of social conservatives, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins all but dismissed the results as irrelevant, citing 600 people who registered Saturday morning and, he said, "left after Ron Paul spoke."
A total of 1,983 ballots were cast. "You do the math," Perkins said.
A year ago in the same contest, Paul came in second-to-last. Speaking briefly with reporters before the straw poll results were announced, the Republican lawmaker said, "If I win, it wouldn't be as important to the media than if I lose."
Paul has a history of scoring unlooked-for straw poll wins by packing the electorate with diehard supporters. But Perkins said it's too early to take much away from Paul's win. "Let me just take you back four years to this event, when we had a straw poll. Mitt Romney won that straw poll," he said. "I think people are still in the process of deciding where they want to go."
Paul got 37 percent of the vote. The rest of the ballots showed how widely social conservatives support is splintered among the rest of the field.
Two other conservative favorites, businessman Herman Cain and former Sen. Rick Santorum, took second and third place, respectively, with 23 percent for Cain and 16 percent for Santorum.
Perry and Michele Bachmann won 8 percent apiece. Mitt Romney got 4 percent of the vote and Newt Gingrich, 3 percent.
For Perry, who is struggling to regain momentum after some disappointing showings in debates and the polls, the results represent a disappointment. The Texas governor is counting on voters who share his socially conservative views to help power his candidacy into the top tier of Republicans. He didn't get the ringing endorsement he might have wished out of the Values Voter Summit. Instead, the gathering put Perry in the midst of a controversy when the Dallas pastor who introduced him Friday later told reporters that Romney's Mormon faith is a "cult" and "not Christian."
Perkins said his organization did "everything to preserve the integrity of this straw poll," including denying campaigns from buying blocks of tickets, "which they attempted to do this year." But Santorum on Friday seemed dubious, and told National Journal that his success in the polls would depend "on how many people, how many campaigns, tried to buy a bunch of tickets and try to stack the poll, which unfortunately happens."
The victory for the longtime congressman and three-time presidential contender over his Republican rivals in the presidential contest was all the more surprising because Paul's principled libertarianism sometimes puts him at odds with the views of social conservatives on issues such as gay marriage and drug laws.
But in a speech hours before the straw poll results were announced, Paul argued that his staunch fiscal conservatism and dogmatic views on liberty were in tune with family values and the Bible.