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McCain, Romney, Guiliani split straw polls

Results are in for the first two significant - and I use the term advisedly - straw polls of the 2008 Republican Presidential campaign, and we have split decisions.

In Spartanburg County, South Carolina, John McCain came back from a flagging third place on the first day of voting to eke out a 2-vote victory in the very conservative upstate county. From The State;

The final results were: McCain, 164; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 162; U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., 158; U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., 85; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 80; and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 21.

While obviously not a scientific sample, the poll represents the hardcore Republican activists candidates will need on the ground during the primary season. The result gives McCain a needed boost to his campaign, which has been perceived as flagging lately. Guiliani can't be disappointed with a close second in this conservative stronghold, and Duncan Hunter's long-shot bid gets a big lift from a very close and competitive third place.

At the conservative CPAC convention where all the candidates except McCain appeared, Patrick Ruffini reports the straw polls results at Hugh Hewitt.com:

Romney wins narrowly while Rudy Giuliani (a client) finishes a strong second:

Romney 21%
Giuliani 17%
Brownback 15%
Gingrich 14%
McCain 12%

On combined first and second place choices, it's a win for Rudy:

Giuliani 34%
Gingrich 30%
Romney 30%

Read his whole post at the link above. Romney had obviously targeted this straw poll, flooding the convention with young volunteers. Of the other candidates, only Brownback also attempted to "campaign" for straw poll votes. Ed Morrissey of Captains Quarters was there:

However, the straw poll probably reflects Romney's organizing abilities far more than his popular support among conservatives. The Romney campaign turned CPAC from a get-acquainted event to a mini-convention by recruiting scores of young activists to attend CPAC and haranguing attendees to vote for Mitt. The Brownback campaign did the same with a smaller coterie of foot soldiers. None of the other candidates bothered to do anything of the kind.

Understanding that, these numbers should be somewhat disappointing to the Romney campaign. Take a look at Giuliani's numbers. Here's a candidate who supposedly didn't impress in his speech on Friday, whose consistent positions have him in conflict with more than a few of the groups comprising CPAC, and who didn't have any organization at the conference or spend any time with the attendees outside of the speech. Despite all of these handicaps, 17% of the conservatives at CPAC selected Rudy over any of the other candidates -- only four points lower than Romney. He beat Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich, who is widely presumed to be preparing his own bid for the presidency.

Read it all at the link above.

Overall, these results have something for everyone - at least, for the top three and Hunter. Guiliani has strong results among conservative activists in both polls, the very people he is supposed to find the most resistant to his candidacy. McCain pulled out a needed win in SC after blowing off CPAC (and probably hurting his chances further by trying to organize a private "meet and greet" there without speaking to the convention). Romney keeps his name in the mix with a win, and Hunter gains some traction as a possible "conservative alternative" candidate.

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