For the second year running, Texas congressman Ron Paul came out on top among conservative Republicans in a "straw poll" contest to gauge popularity ahead of the 2012 presidential race.
Paul, who calls himself a libertarian, is not really the party's typical standard bearer, by any measure.
But he earned the most votes in the contest held by the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, in which about 4,000 people cast ballots.
"There is truly a revolution going on in this country," Paul said in a speech.
"We live at a time where we do need a change in attitude, a change in ideas. We don't need to just change the political parties; we need to change our philosophy about what this country is all about."
"Our country stands at a precipice," Paul warned. "America's greatness and exceptionalism are because we chose economic and political freedom.
"We are not inherently exceptional. We are exceptional because we chose freedom and we chose to protect that freedom from tyranny with the Constitution."
He has been a presidential candidate twice in the past: in 1988 and 2008.
The straw poll comes as US conservatives clamor for a clear leader with a lot of voices seeking to be heard, and face the challenge of battling incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama.
Paul took 30 percent of the vote, followed by another 2008 presidential hopeful, Massachusetts ex-governor Mitt Romney, with 23 percent.
Other prominent Republicans were far behind. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was the first choice of six percent. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who did not attend the conference, also received six percent.
The darling of the conservative movement, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, got only five while Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann received four.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels both stood at four percent.
And in a surprise to many, Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who did not attend the gathering, got only three percent of the vote.
At two percent each were former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who also did not attend, former National Restaurant Association head Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and South Dakota Senator John Thune.
Paul, who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and was not seen as a strong contender, was aided at the conference by followers who have been long united behind the veteran libertarian.
Officials at Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian group, said they recruited about 700 students to attend the convention this year.
Republican activists taking part in the event agreed the 2012 contenders have yet to generate broad enthusiasm among conservatives.
"They're all looking for somebody and - you'd be surprised - they don't think the person they're looking for is here yet," said Mark Pollard of Austin, Texas, who attended the gathering.
He was searching for a candidate with presidential stature, Pollard said.
"I don't think I've seen that yet," he added.
© AFP 2013