WASHINGTON, D.C Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney both were able to claim victory in straw poll results at a meeting of social conservatives Oct. 19 to 21.
Votes cast at the Values Voter Summit gave Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, an overwhelming advantage of 488 votes, or 51.3 percent, to Romney's 99 votes (10.4 percent). The combination of onsite ballots with Internet and mail votes gave Romney an edge, however. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, won by 30 votes in overall balloting, 1,595 (27.6 percent) to Huckabee's 1,565 (27.2 percent).
The poll was conducted during the meeting, which was held at a Washington hotel and sponsored by the political action arms of Family Research Council and Focus on the Family as well as other conservative organizations. Votes cast online and via mail over a two-month period were added to those recorded by meeting attendees to provide the results in the overall straw poll.
The poll clearly showed Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, was the favorite of the 950-plus people who voted at the meeting, which was made up largely of evangelical Christians. Meanwhile, the online and mail balloting from nearly 5,800 voters may have demonstrated primarily the significance to and organization of the Romney campaign.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul also benefited greatly from the offsite component of the poll. He finished ninth in the onsite results with only 25 votes, but he was third in the overall balloting with 865 votes (15 percent).
All of the GOP candidates spoke at the meeting and sought to gain the support of the pro-life, pro-family audience.
Huckabee seemed confident his agenda fit the bill for social conservatives.
"I come today not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you," he said.
"We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards," he said, drawing from his long record of pro-life support and advocacy against same-sex marriage.
Huckabee also appealed to the audience with his staunch support for the war on terrorism and a tough stance on immigration.
"Their goal is not simply to make sure that your grandchildren don't live as well or have as nice a home. They don't want your grandchildren to ever live at all," he said, describing the way in which "Islamo-fascism" drives terrorism.
Romney also presented a strong pro-life message and family-focused platform, brushing aside skepticism by some evangelicals about his Mormon faith and his relatively recent pro-life switch.
"I'm a convert to this cause," he told the audience. "I'll be a pro-life president."
"I imagine that one or two of you may have heard that I'm Mormon," Romney joked, adding that evangelicals share his values. "I am pleased that so many people of faith have come to support my candidacy and my message."
Romney emphasized that finding middle ground for social conservatives, financial conservatives and defense conservatives is the key to gaining the White House.
"We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton by acting like Hillary Clinton," he said.
Thompson, the actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee, presented his conservative credentials at the briefing and finished third onsite and fourth overall. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, had questioned both his commitment to social conservatism and his faith in recent months.
As a senator from 1994 to 2002, he was proud to say he was a "consistent conservative ... with a 100 percent pro-life voting record," Thompson said. "That's who I was then. That's who I am today. And that's the kind of president I would be."
Giuliani pitches faith
More than any other candidate who spoke at the summit, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a number of obstacles to overcome to reach this bloc of voters. He made a personal appeal to the conservative crowd, assuring them of his faith and their shared values.
"You have nothing to fear from me," said Giuliani, who is pro-choice on abortion.
"My belief in God and my reliance on His guidance is at the core of who I am, I want to assure you of that," he said.
"You and I, and I believe almost all Americans, share the same goala country without abortion," he told the crowd, backing the statement up with promises to appoint federal judges similar to Supreme Court Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who are strict constructionists and have voted in favor of abortion restrictions.
Despite the fact that his speech received a warm reception, Giuliani, the GOP leader in national opinion polling, trailed the other more conservative candidates in the poll, finishing in fifth place among onsite voters. In the overall poll, he received 107 votes, less than 2 percent of the vote, for ninth place.
California's only candidate for president, Congressman Duncan Hunter, addressed national security and illegal immigration, his longtime focus issues. He also took a moment to highlight the importance of presidential judicial appointments.
"Lots of people talk in lots of vague ways about how they would appoint judges, Hunter said. "I like to talk plainly. Let me just say this to you. If a judicial candidate can look at a sonogram of an unborn child and not see a valuable human life, I will not appoint that candidate to the federal bench."
Not surprisingly, his comments drew a sustained round of applause from the conservative audience.
In closing, Hunter spoke of the importance of family.
"Families lift our country up," he said. "They provide us with fidelity, morality, faith in God in raising the next generation of Americans.
The onsite results for the Republican candidates were: Huckabee, 488 votes (51.3 percent); Romney, 99 votes (10.4 percent); Thompson, 77 votes (8.1 percent); Tom Tancredo, 65 votes (6.8 percent); Giuliani, 60 votes (6.3 percent); Duncan Hunter, 54 votes (5.7 percent); John McCain, 30 votes (3.2 percent); Sam Brownback, 26 votes (2.7 percent), and Paul, 25 votes (2.6 percent).
The overall balloting was: Romney, 1,595 votes (27.6 percent); Huckabee, 1,565 votes (27.2 percent); Paul, 865 votes (15 percent); Thompson, 564 votes (9.8 percent); Brownback, 297 votes (5.1 percent); Hunter, 140 votes (2.4 percent); Tancredo, 133 votes (2.3 percent); Giuliani, 107 votes (1.9 percent) and McCain, 81 votes (1.4 percent). The fifth-highest total was for those who are undecided; they amounted to 329 votes (5.7 percent).
The results for Brownback, a favorite among evangelicals and other social conservatives, appeared to be affected by his announcement Oct. 19 he was withdrawing from the race.
The Democrat Party candidates also were listed on the ballots. Barack Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois, received the most votes, with nine in the overall poll and five onsite.
None of the Democratic candidates appeared at the summit.
Other cosponsors of the meeting were the Alliance Defense Fund, American Family Association Action, American Values and High Impact Leadership Coalition.