Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) won a key straw poll Saturday of conservatives' preference of whom they would most like to see run for president in 2012.

Paul, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who ran on a libertarian platform, won the straw poll Saturday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with 31 percent of the participants' vote.

One of the conference's keynote speakers on Friday, Paul won this year's poll after having tied for third place last year. The news was met with jeers in the audience.


Paul was followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) at 22 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) at seven percent, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) at six percent, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) at five percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) at four percent.

The poll is seen as a preliminary bellwether of support among the Republican Party's conservative activists. As 2012 approaches, each year's poll becomes arguably more important, indicating where battle lines are being drawn within the GOP.

Romney won last year's CPAC poll, taking 20 percent of attendees' votes, followed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) at 14 percent, and Palin and Paul tied at 13 percent.

Romney had also won the previous two years' straw polls as well, though he still went on in 2008 to lose the GOP nomination to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden steps onto global stage with high-stakes UN speech Biden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance MORE (R-Ariz.).

Paul has been reluctant to say whether or not he'll run for president again in 2012, though he has vowed to remain active in national politics through his grassroots group, Campaign for Liberty. His son, Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE, is also a top GOP contender for the open Senate seat in Kentucky.

The victory for Paul is somewhat of an upset over candidates like Romney and Pawlenty, seen by Republican operatives as arguably two of the top party establishment candidates for president.

At least one top Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, mused Friday that the Republican nominee for president in 2012 will very likely have been a speaker at this year's conference.

Indeed, presidential hopefuls' speeches and stumping at CPAC can sometimes mean boom or bust in the straw poll. Among the notable absences in this year's major speaking slots were Jindal, Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThis week: Democrats face mounting headaches Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants MORE (R-S.D.), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

The conference had approximately 10,000 participants, according to organizers, though only 2,400 of attendees participated in the straw poll.

This post was updated at 11:46 p.m.