MEMPHIS, Tenn., Mar 12 (Reuters) More than 20 months before any real votes are cast, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist of Tennessee won a straw poll yesterday 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 14.4 percent, while Sen George Allen of Virginia finished tied for third with President George W Bush, whose name was added to the ballot by 10.3 per cent 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.
The potential candidates who attended the convention were Frist, Romney, Allen, McCain, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
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