Former Arkanas Governor and Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee has won the first informal round in what will no doubt be a long race to head the party’s White House ticket in 2012.

The affable Baptist preacher, who won the hearts and minds of conservative evangelicals during his failed 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, topped other possible Republican presidential contenders in a straw poll at a summit of Christian conservative voters in Washington.

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Out of a field of nine, Huckabee garnered the most votes or 28.5 percent. Delegates to the convention were asked: “Thinking ahead to the 2012 presidential election and assuming the nomination of Barack Obama as Democtats’ choice for president, who would you vote for as the Republicans nominee for president?”

Surprisingly, former Alaska Governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who lit up the party’s conservative Christian base last year, came in fourth with 12 percent. Her relatively poor performance could have been linked to her failure to attend the summit — Huckabee delivered a rousing speech on Friday.

Huckabee’s arch rival in the 2008 race, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, was the runner-up with 12.4 percent.  He also gave a well-received speech that stuck mostly to economic and foreign policy themes.