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)