March 11, 2006
Frist Wins Republican Straw Poll
Filed at 9:56 p.m. ET
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (Reuters) - More than 20 months before any real votes are cast, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist of Tennessee won a straw poll on Saturday of party activists choosing their early favorite in the 2008 White House race.
Frist, who packed the home-state crowd with supporters wearing blue ``Frist is my leader'' buttons, won nearly 37 percent of the 1,427 votes cast by delegates to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was second with 13 percent, while Sen. George Allen of Virginia finished tied for third with President George W. Bush, whose name was added to the ballot by 10 percent of the delegates at the urging of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The poll results, while meaning little in the long run, could give the top two finishers, Frist and Romney, a boost in recognition heading into the 2008 campaign.
The win for Frist followed a tough year in which he became the target of a federal probe of his stock sales and was criticized for his Senate leadership.
Frist and Romney were among six possible presidential candidates who spoke to the gathering of nearly 2,000 activists from 26 states in what served as an unofficial kickoff to the 2008 race. All registered delegates were eligible to vote in the poll, sponsored by political tip sheet The Hotline.
Other potential candidates who attended the convention were Allen, McCain, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
McCain, in what rivals said was an acknowledgment he would not perform that well in the poll, told his supporters to write down Bush's name. No vote totals were immediately announced for Brownback and Huckabee.
With Bush in his final term and Vice President Dick Cheney not running for president, the White House race in 2008 is wide open for Republicans and Democrats.
Public opinion polls show McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who did not attend the conference, are the most popular and well known of the possible Republican White House contenders.
Most potential White House hopefuls played down the importance of the straw poll, although Frist said on Saturday that ``I guess I hope I do pretty well'' given the voting was in his home state.
``I wouldn't put too much emphasis on polls, polls are just snapshots,'' Frist said.