Mitt Romney wins Republican straw poll

Former Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney addresses the third session of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 3, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney narrowly won a popularity contest on Saturday for potential Republican presidential candidates at a gathering of 3,500 party loyalists.

Romney, who lost the Republican nomination to Senator John McCain in 2008, beat out Republican Representative Ron Paul in a straw poll of participants at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

Romney did not attend the New Orleans conference, instead proceeding with a book tour that took him to New Hampshire on Thursday. Of 1,806 votes cast, Romney had 439 votes to Paul’s 438.

Sarah Palin, a former Alaska governor and the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, came third with 330 votes, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 321.

Editing by Peter Cooney