WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith caused a buzz at the Values Voter Summit over the weekend, but Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, grabbed headlines by winning the straw poll.
Rep. Paul has become an icon. Beloved by a young, dedicated core of libertarian-leaning conservatives, his win at the summit shows that his message is resonating.
"We have too often relied on our king in Washington, and we have to change that," Paul told those gathered at this weekend's event.
Other candidates professed loyalty to social issues but mostly talked about the dismal economy and the man presiding over it.
"This year, we don't settle. We're going to win the White House. So, let's finally have one of us in the White House," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said.
Despite Paul's votes, runner-up Herman Cain's rise in the polls makes him a top-tier candidate, challenging Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Cain said that as president he would upgrade America's surface-to-air ballistic missile system and deliver a message to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Make my day!" he said.
There's no doubt that the buzz at the Values Voter Summit over the weekend has been all about Cain. The crowd adores him. He's gone from long shot to top tier, something he credits God for.
"God's been in this from the beginning because when I first started to feel that I needed to consider running, I did a lot of praying," Cain told CBN News.
"I felt like Moses when God said, 'I want you to go into Egypt and lead my people out,'" he said.
"Moses resisted. I resisted. Moses said you got the wrong person. You can't be talking about me," he said. "I had these conversations with God."
As for Perry, the crowd took kindly to his hybrid message of economics and values. His fall in the polls, however, has specifically benefitted Cain.
"There will probably be multiple meteoric rises in the Republican primary, so to take a snapshot in time, you could go back in every campaign and ask that question about someone who ultimately didn't end up being our nominee," Perry told CBN News.
Pastor: Mormonism a Cult
Romney made points by bashing President Obama, but he took some heat when Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, introduced Perry to the crowd with a challenge to evangelicals.
"Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person or a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?" Jeffress asked.
"Rick Perry is a proven leader," Jeffress said. "He is a true conservative, and he is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
Later, in a hallway with reporters he went further.
"It's not politically correct to say, but it's true. Mormonism is a cult," Jeffress stated.
Romney indirectly addressed the pastor's comments.
"Poisonous language does not advance our cause," the former Massachusetts governor said. "It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind."
While Romney is considered the establishment frontrunner, he's not necessarily the darling of this audience.
"The Tea Party and the social conservatives are not on the same page about who the candidate is," said John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action.
"If they were to get together they could control the process, but if they split up, the establishment vote prevails," he said.
That's why candidates will continue to pay a lot of attention to the pro-family-values crowd.