The front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination had to take a back seat in Aiken Thursday to a long-shot candidate with a small but loyal band of supporters.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a strict constructionist, was the surprise winner of the Aiken County Republican Party presidential straw poll with 30 percent of the vote.
"I don't necessarily know if our results will hold come Jan. 19 during the state primary, but I do think the poll reflects the opinions of those that are very active in the party," said Andy O'Bryne, party chairman.
Paul, who up to this point has been treated as a footnote in the GOP race, is known for a loyal base which routinely raises money, buys political signs and even stages campaign events on its own accord in the Texan's name.
In a recent South Carolina poll conducted by CBS News and released Wednesday, Paul was not even listed in the final results. Typically the congressman receives somewhere between 5 and 7 percent in national polls.
"I think Congressman Paul has energized the libertarian portion of the party," said O'Bryne. "They are a mature but active group. But I think that some of their issues are not necessarily in line with the consensus of the rest of the party."
Among the issues that Paul and his supporters have disagreed with the party base on is the ongoing war in Iraq. Paul, who favors isolationism in regard to foreign policy, has repeatedly spoken out against the war and for the return home of U.S. soldiers.
While Paul was the winner of the straw poll, some of the more well-known candidates also placed well. In second was Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, with 28 percent, followed by MikeHuckabee, former Arkansas governor, with 17 percent; Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, with 11 percent; Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both with 6 percent; and California Congressman Duncan Hunter, with 3 percent.
The straw poll, which was relegated to one of the smaller rooms in the Aiken County Council complex because of a council meeting, was a standing room only affair as more than 100 people showed up to cast a vote in support of their favorite candidate to succeed President George W. Bush in the White House.
Win after win, keep it up grassroots!