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updated: 11/6/2011 11:29 AM

Ron Paul wins Illinois straw poll

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Texas Congressman Ron Paul won Saturday's statewide presidential straw poll with 52 percent of the vote. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney carried the state's in-person voting with 35 percent.

"I congratulate Congressman Paul on his victory," said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. "It is clear Illinois Republicans are gearing up tremendous election year in 2012."

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Romney earned 7 percent of the online vote, while Paul earned 8 percent of the in-person vote. Paul had 66.5 percent of online votes.

Businessman and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain got 15 percent of the online vote and 35 percent of the in-person vote.

Brady and the party's highest-ranking officer, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, had identified a statewide presidential straw poll winner hours before results were tallied Saturday.

They weren't talking specific candidates in the crowded primary field, but the state party itself.

The poll -- at least momentarily -- had pivoted the conversation from the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries to Illinois, fueling races up and down the ticket with both enthusiasm and campaign cash.

"Today's straw poll was an excellent opportunity to showcase our party's strength one year out of the election," Brady. "I am pleased with today's turnout and look forward to building on our successes from 2010."

With 3,649 votes, the Illinois Presidential Straw Poll surpassed states like Ohio, Florida and California that held straw polls earlier this year.

In Arlington Heights Saturday morning, Wheeling Township Republican headquarters was packed with about 200 local residents who, as they were standing in line waiting to cast votes, had the chance to grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut and to bend the ears of Republican candidates, including Kirk, 10th District Congressman Bob Dold, state Rep. David Harris and Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak.

Kirk said he conceived the idea for the poll last year as a way of making it clear that the state is more than what he calls a "political ATM" for presidential candidates who view Illinois as an electoral write-off for President Barack Obama.

Votes cost $5 apiece and could be cast throughout the week online or in person at township party headquarters Saturday. In addition to Arlington Heights, Kirk and Brady made stops in Palatine, Downers Grove, Libertyville and Lemont.

Kirk said he noticed a variance in "favorites" in different pockets, with North Shore Republicans turning out for Utah Gov. John Huntsman and Chicago residents backing Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Others in the Northwest suburbs, including Kevin Kilgore of Prospect Heights, cast ballots for Cain, despite recent sexual harassment allegations.

Kirk, who had weeks before described the GOP presidential primary as a two-man race between Romney and Texas governor Rick Perry, said he believes Perry, after recent debate flubs, will be unable to regain momentum.

Wheeling GOP Chair Ruth O'Connell, who is also a Perry delegate, said, "You have to look at who you like, but who's electable."

In 2007, a much smaller poll was held by the Illinois GOP at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won that time around, with 40 percent of the 922 votes. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson came in second.

Adam Kravitz, CEO of eVoter, the Florida-based online election service that coordinated the online voting effort, said news of Illinois' GOP straw poll had reached other states, including Oklahoma, that were hoping to hold polls of their own.

Voting in Arlington Heights, Charlie Glick of Lake Zurich tried to sum the process up for his young son, Kaizer, who had accompanied his father.

"I tried to explain to him that it's a vote before a vote before a vote," Glick said.

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