(CNN) -- U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a stalwart foe of government spending, won a blowout victory Saturday in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll.
With participants naming "reducing the size of federal government" as their top issue, the 74-year old libertarian hero captured 31 percent of the 2,400 votes cast in the annual contest, usually seen as a barometer of how the GOP's conservative wing regards their potential presidential candidates.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished second with 22 percent of the vote, ending a three-year winning streak at CPAC. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin finished third with 7 percent of the vote, followed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at 6 percent and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence at 5 percent.
They were followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who tied at 4 percent. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour rounded out the results.
Five percent of participants voted for "Other" and 6 percent was undecided.
The announcement of Paul's win, a surprise victory unlikely to have a major impact on the 2012 presidential contest, drew a volley of loud boos from the CPAC audience.
That discontent could be seen in the poll results: A majority of participants said they wished the Republican Party had a better field of candidates to choose from.
But Paul's victory might be seen, in part, as a result of his support among anti-establishment Tea Party activists -- who turned out in force at this year's conference and expressed some frustration with the Republican Party.
Reflecting the college atmosphere of the annual event, young people dominated the voting: 54 percent of participants were between the ages of 18 and 25.