Updated at 1:16 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2011
A strong internet presence pushed Ron Paul to the top in the Illinois Republican straw poll. The Texas congressman bested the other presidential candidates in the survey, which wrapped up on Saturday.
Casting a ballot in the straw poll cost $5, and the Illinois Republican Party said more than 3600 people participated. Three quarters of them did so online, which is how Ron Paul claimed more than 50 percent of the vote.
"I think what this does is it shows the relative strengths of the candidates," said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk at a press conference announcing the results. "Ron Paul is obviously a big online performer."
Georgia businessman Herman Cain finished second overall, but well back at 18 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got third, powered by a relatively strong support from voters who showed up in person to cast ballots at straw polling places around the state.
Illinois' poll got little if any attention from the major candidates, though a representative from Paul's campaign said it sent email reminders to supporters in the state.
Kirk said he hopes the straw poll becomes a tradition, held every four years.
"So that candidates - either on the Democratic side or Republican side - will come here not just to raise money but to campaign and seek votes from Rockford to Cairo," he said.
As for this election, Kirk guessed the Republican nomination will be "largely" decided by early February, more than a month before Illinois holds its primary.
"But we could be proved wrong, and the Illinois primary could still have an impact," Kirk said.
This was billed as the first statewide straw poll for Illinois, and there was some confusion over the rules. The party's website explained that multiple votes could be cast online using the same credit card, "in order to facilitate voting in households where there may be only one credit card, but more than one voter (a husband and wife, for instance)."
But at the press conference Saturday, organizers said such votes were not counted.
"I think there were roughly 30 people that tried to do that," Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady said. "I don't think there was an ill-intent there. It's just that they tried to do it, but it wasn't allowed."
That apparently wasn't clear to the House Republican Organization, a political group headed by state Rep. Tom Cross, the GOP leader in the Illinois House. An email to supporters said online participants "can vote multiple times to 'run up the score' for your favorite candidate."
"Yeah - [Cross] was incorrect," Kirk said when asked about the email, which was first written about on the website Republican News Watch. "And so, we did find 30 people that tried to vote twice and they were eliminated."
This is the second straw poll taken in Illinois in the past month. In early October, a convention of Tea Party activists meeting in Schaumburg overwhelmingly supported Cain's candidacy.
Cain's second-place finish in this week's statewide poll followed intense media coverage of allegations that he sexually harassed several employees while heading the National Restaurant Association. Cain has denied the allegations.
Illinois Republican Party Presidential Straw Poll Results
Source: Illinois GOP