NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Representative Ron Paul easily won a Republican Leadership Conference straw poll of the party's 2012 presidential contenders on Saturday, with former U.S. envoy to China Jon Huntsman finishing second.
Paul, who brought busloads of supporters to the conference, won with 612 votes in the nonbinding preference poll of nearly 2,000 delegates from 38 states who attended the gathering.
Huntsman finished second with 382 votes, Representative Michele Bachmann was third with 191 votes and businessman Herman Cain was fourth with 104 votes.
Huntsman, a former Utah governor, is set announce his bid for the White House on Tuesday.
No other candidate broke triple digits. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who leads national opinion polls in the 2012 Republican race for the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama, was fifth with 74 votes.
"This win is just the latest indicator of how the majority of American opinion is turning in Ron Paul's direction," said Jesse Benton, his campaign chairman.
Paul, Bachmann and Cain addressed the New Orleans conference on Friday. Huntsman was scheduled to speak but canceled because of illness. Romney and Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who earned 18 votes, skipped the event.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke on Thursday, had 69 votes. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who says she is considering becoming a candidate, had 41 votes. She also did not appear at the conference.
Former Senator Rick Santorum, who also spoke on Friday, had 30 votes.
Romney narrowly won the straw poll at the annual conference last year over Paul, but the survey has not been a reliable predictor of success. Bill Frist, who was Senate Republican leader at the time, won in 2006 and failed to ever get his campaign off the ground.
Texas Governor George W. Bush won in 1998, two years before he captured the White House.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)