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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, June 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pro-life U.S. House lawmaker Ron Paul came out the winner at this year’s Republican Leadership Conference’s straw poll, which asked GOP activists which candidate they would support for their party’s presidential nomination. The conference, held in New Orleans, also showed off the strengths of other potential contenders, such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachman, but had poor showings for Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney.

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Paul, a constitutionalist who believes Congress should end the impasse of Roe v. Wade with legislation withdrawing the jurisdiction of federal courts from abortion, won handily over his challengers with 612 votes. Paul’s passionate supporters tend to flock to straw polls, giving him a heavy base of support.

Pro-life and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman made a surprise second place finish with 382 votes, despite being not well known and declining to attend and speak at the conference, citing a head cold. Politico, however, reported a rumor that Huntsman’s campaign had bussed in a large number of supporters, which Huntsman’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny.

House Tea Party Caucus leader Michele Bachmann came in third place with 191 votes, followed by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain with 104 votes.

No other candidate listed on the straw poll received over 100 votes. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (who skipped the conference despite winning last year’s straw poll by one vote over Paul), received just 78 votes. Other candidates: Newt Gingrich, 69 votes; Sarah Palin (undeclared), 41 votes; Rick Santorum, 30 votes; and Tim Pawlenty, 18 votes.

The debate had some prominent highlights. According to reports, Cain electrified activists with his “I have a dream” speech, a nod to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Cain is seeking to become the United States’ second black president, and the first one to be pro-life.

Cain said the U.S. was living through a “national nightmare” under President Obama, and that his dream is to restore conservative majorities to the U.S. House and Senate and be able to lead the nation as president.

CBS News reports that afterward Cain quipped to reporters that he was happy to break the stereotype that blacks would only support the Democratic Party or run as Democrats. “I left that plantation a long time ago and I’m not going back,” he said. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may also be considering a bid for U.S. president, fired up crowds by saying conservatives need to “stop apologizing” to the political left, to “stand up,” and to “speak with pride about our morals and our values.”

Perry, who is pro-life, emphasized, “Our opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let’s quit trying to curry favor with them.”

Although the RLC straw poll is not scientific (candidates do try to bring in their own supporters to these events), it tends to indicate the strength of enthusiasm among GOP activists who will be the frontline troops in a potential presidential campaign.

The showing was brutal for Pawlenty, who has criticized President Obama repeatedly for “fluffy rhetoric,” but has failed to follow through on tough talk directed at GOP frontrunner Romney.

Pawlenty ripped Romney on Fox News Sunday June 12, the eve of the GOP New Hampshire debate, for signing in 2007 the Massachusetts health care law that includes an individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Pawlenty said this law was President Obama’s inspiration for the national health care law, calling it “ObamneyCare.” However, Pawlenty balked at the opportunity (offered three times) by moderator John King to confront Romney about the accusation during the debate the following day.

Pawlenty’s underwhelming performance continues to register in polls. A post-debate survey conducted by Rasmussen showed the former Minnesota governor still stuck in single digits at 6 percent support, alongside former U.S. Senator and pro-life champion Rick Santorum.

That same poll, however, showed a massive bounce for the other Minnesotan presidential contender, Michele Bachmann, who jumped from single digits to second place at 19 percent.

Romney took first place in that survey, registering at 33 percent. Romney, who says he is pro-life, but has very few legislative accomplishments to back that assertion up, has recently come under fire from the Susan B. Anthony List for refusing to sign a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood and appoint only pro-life advocates to important posts in his administration. Romney said the pledge was “overly broad and would have unintended consequences.” (see story)

Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, Pawlenty, and Santorum have all signed the pledge. Cain and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who supports unrestricted abortion “until the point of viability,” also did not sign the SBA List pledge. Cain, however, cited that he “adamantly support[ed]” the pledge, but objected only to advancing a federal fetal pain abortion ban, which he said was Congress’s responsibility.

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