WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney narrowly won a straw poll of mostly Christian conservative voters at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit held this weekend in the nation's capital.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attends a gathering of the Family Research Council on Friday.
The former Massachusetts governor won almost 28 percent of the 5,776 votes cast, edging out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who finished 30 votes behind him.
"The vote is a validation of Governor Romney's core message to grass-roots Republican activists," Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said at the close of the two-day conference.
"His is a campaign built on the important issues of national security, economic security and stronger families."
"It's hard to gauge how big a victory this is for Romney because we're not entirely sure whether these voters represent the larger Christian conservative constituency," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said.
"Romney won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August by spending a lot of money. We don't know how much of an organizational effort was behind this victory," he said.
"Romney's true acceptability to Christian conservatives will not become clear until we see how he does in January in the Iowa Republican caucuses and the South Carolina Republican Primary.
"But the results suggest that being a Mormon may be a barrier for winning the support of Christian conservatives," Schneider said. Watch Schneider discuss the significance of Romney's win »
A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that Americans' attitudes toward Mormonism appear to be changing.
Half of those surveyed last weekend considered Mormons Christian, up from 34 percent last year.
Far fewer people voted in person at the conference than participated online or by mail.
Huckabee was the clear winner of the in-person balloting, with 488 of the 952 votes. Romney was second with 99 on-site votes.
Only members of the council's political arm could vote.
During the voting period, which began in August, the conservative organization saw its membership increase from about 5,000 members to 8,500, said Tony Perkins, council president.
"The straw vote is a setback for Fred Thompson, a Southerner who is trying to lock up the conservative wing of the party. Thompson's 10 percent is an embarrassingly weak showing," Schneider said.
But Thompson's spokeswoman saw the results in a different light.
"Fred Thompson was happy to have received an enthusiastic response and standing ovation from attendees at the Values Voters Summit," Karen Hanretty said.
"While it's easy for a candidate to buy votes in an unscientific straw poll, what matters more is that Christian conservative voters favor Fred over the other candidates, as evidenced in a recent CBS poll," she said.
Powerful voting bloc
Christian conservatives carry a lot of clout within the Republican Party.
They vote in great numbers in the Republican primaries, especially in the crucial early presidential contest states of Iowa and South Carolina. That's one reason all of the GOP presidential candidates came to Washington to court their vote.
Coming into the Values Voters Summit, Christian conservatives appeared to have problems with all of the top-tier GOP White House hopefuls.
The front-runner in the national polls, thrice-married Giuliani, supports the legal right to an abortion.
Romney -- the leader in Iowa and New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary -- supported the legal right to abortions before changing his stance.
His Mormon faith may be a problem for some values voters.
Thompson -- who is second in most national polls -- is against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He believes the states should decide. Some top Christian conservative leaders have questioned Thompson's commitment to their core issues.
McCain also opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and he's had a rocky relationship over the years with Christian conservative leaders.
Huckabee could be considered the ideal candidate for evangelical voters -- he's the only minister.
But he's not well known, and regardless of his strong performances in the Republican presidential debates so far this year, few think he has a shot at winning the GOP nomination.
The other presidential hopeful who also saw eye-to-eye with the religious right is no longer a candidate. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas dropped out of the race for the White House on Friday due to a lack of campaign cash.
While Giuliani received only polite applause from the audience after his comments, Huckabee won several ovations.
The former Baptist preacher called legalized abortion a "holocaust."
"Sometimes we talk about why we're importing so many people in our work force," he said.
"It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our work force had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."
Huckabee also spoke adamantly of the need for conservative lawmakers to show no compromise on fighting for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
"I'm very tired of hearing people who are unwilling to change the Constitution, but seem more than willing to change the holy word of God as it relates to the definition of marriage," he said. E-mail to a friend
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