Paul, the 75-year-old Republican Texas congressman who won the straw poll at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington as well, got 30 percent of the vote, while the 63-year-old Romney got 23 percent, NBC reported. About 3,700 people, roughly one-third of attendees, voted, and organizers said almost half were under 25.
There was a loud response to the announcement Paul was the winner, Politico said, but it was a mix of applause and booing.
Paul, a libertarian who opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and supports fiscal restraint and legalized drugs, has an enthusiastic following among young people. Romney is the closest thing in the crowded field to an establishment candidate.
No other candidates got more than 6 percent of the vote with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a tie for third place.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute since giving up his Georgia congressional seat in 1999, was fifth with 5 percent followed by Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels all at 4 percent and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 3 percent.