Firebrand Sarah Palin told conservatives Saturday not to settle quickly on a Republican presidential nominee, but to let the candidates fight it out longer on the campaign trail.

Palin, in a speech at a three-day conference of conservatives, urged Republicans to ignore those who insist "we have to name our nominee right now. Wrap it up. No debate for you. Cut it off."

"As if competition weakens our nominee. In America, we believe competition strengthens us. Competition elevates our game," she said. "Competition will lead us to victory in 2012. I believe that the competition has to keep going."

Palin, who drew thunderous applause, refrained from endorsing any candidate in her speech, which was devoted mainly to biting attacks against President Barack Obama. She rocketed onto the national stage after being tapped as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain's running mate in 2008.

A prolonged Republican nominating fight would be more likely to hurt former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and help come-from-behind contenders like former senator Rick Santorum or House speaker Newt Gingrich.

A straw poll of those attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, announced shortly before Palin spoke, went to Romney, who won 38 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Santorum.

Gingrich came in third with 15 percent and Texas congressman Ron Paul 12 percent.

The four are the last candidates standing in a topsy turvy race to pick a Republican nominee to run against Obama in November.