In a smashing victory, Texas Congressmember Ron Paul dominated the presidential straw poll at the Republican state convention, winning the support of 0.000070468 percent of California’s 5.3 million registered GOP voters.

Hey, it’s a start.

Easily outpacing front-running rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, Paul captured 374 convention votes (compared to Perry’s 244 and Romney’s 74) to finish first in the nonbinding straw poll, which was cooked up by GOP leaders in an effort to add some juice to the proceedings at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, in the L.A. Live entertainment complex.

As TV techs and producers set up next door for Sunday night’s Emmy Awards broadcast, it was Paul who provided nearly all the convention entertainment. His appearance attracted a battalion of Gen Y supporters, drawn by his anti-government, anti-war message, many of whom forked over $25 to the GOP for the right to vote in the straw poll.

Ron Paul

Fans of his libertarian message cheered him loudly and steadily before, during, and after his Saturday-morning speech (“I think the main purpose of our Constitution and political action should be the preservation of liberty,” he said), disrupting al fresco diners with endless chants of “Pres-i-dent Paul!” which boomed around the plaza long after their man had left the building.

“A party breakfast has likely never seen so much Converse,” the Sacramento political writer David Siders noted in a blog post.

RICK AND MITT MIA: As a substantive matter, the Paul boomlet was little noted and will be even less remembered. Reporters covering the convention had retreated to the bars well before GOP leaders finally got around to announcing the results Saturday night, and the three-hour time difference meant he received scant next-day mainstream-media coverage on the East Coast.

While Team Ron claimed an organizational victory, more notable was the fact that neither Perry nor Romney bothered to show up and compete, leaving the stage to Paul and fellow presidential second-stringer Michele Bachmann, who delivered the keynote address Friday night.

The absence of the top contenders sent a clear message about California’s role in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes. Both Perry and Romney are focused far more on Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, crucial early states that vote long before California’s June primary; at least at this point, defeating President Barack Obama here in the general election is a very big, and very expensive, long shot. (Latest polling: Romney leads Perry among state GOP voters, 28 to 20 percent; Obama skunks them both in projected matchups).

Michele Bachmann

MICHELE RANTS: The no-shows left the stage to Paul and Bachmann, who delivered a 40-minute stem-winder that fell flat among the delegates (she finished an embarrassing fourth in the straw poll, with 64 votes).

Along with familiar paeans to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, the Minnesota congressmember offered easy assurances about the “simple formula” needed to fix the economy (cut taxes and regulations, especially those of the EPA) and emotional calls to repeal “Obamacare” and the new Dodd-Frank financial services law, aimed at protecting consumers. She also urged a policy of unbridled exploration and drilling for oil:

“We have billions and billions of barrels of oil here in the United States — in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in the Gulf region, the Bakken oil field [in North Dakota],” Bachmann said. “I’ve been up to [the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge]. I’ve seen. This is one of the most perfect places to drill. Drill! Why not? We’ve got it.”

Her remarks drew great interest from reporters, who rushed to ask Bachmann if she supports offshore drilling in California. Alas, she ignored questions, grinning and waving as she departed inside a convoy of beefy and aggressive campaign aides who brushed journalists aside like flies. (Disclosure: My partner in the Web site Calbuzz was one of them, and we posted a story on the episode headlined, “Bachmann Thugs Block Offshore Oil Question.”)

BOTTOM LINE: Amid the Sturm und Drang swirling around Paul and Bachmann, some more pragmatic Republicans were unimpressed.

Ron Edwards, a delegate from Stanislaus County who leads the Republican caucus of the California Teachers Association, said he is undecided between supporting Perry and Romney, but that the extreme positions taken by Paul and Bachmann make both unelectable.

“If you’re not elected, you can’t change anything,” he said, watching Paul’s youthful fans demonstrating in the atrium lobby. “The rest is just people yelling.”


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