In CPAC keynote speech, Sarah Palin urges a long, competitive primary season

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday, Sarah Palin encouraged conservative activists to keep the Republican primary season going, saying the competition will "strengthen" the GOP nominee in November.

"We're hearing now, we've all heard from these experts, that we've gotta name our nominee right now," the one-time vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. said. "As if competition weakens our nominee! In America, we believe that competition strengthens us. Competition will lead us to victory in 2012."

Her speech closed the three-day conference in Washington, D.C., where Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich spoke Friday. Immediately before Palin delivered her remarks, conference organizers announced that Romney had won a non-binding straw poll conducted among attendees, beating Santorum by seven percentage points.

But while Palin defended a prolonged primary season, she also cautioned against taking party infighting too far.

"The far left and their media allies can't beat us on the issues, so instead, they'll destroy our records. They'll smear our reputations. They'll even attack our families," Palin said. "Let's not do the job for them, okay Republicans?"

Palin has shied away from expressly endorsing a candidate, but said the nominee "must be someone who can instinctively turn right to constitutional conservative principles." Of the candidates in the field, Palin reiterated that she would support any of them against President Barack Obama. Her husband, Todd Palin, endorsed Gingrich in January, and she urged voters before the South Carolina primary to vote for the former House Speaker, but only to extend the primary season for the reasons she outlined in her CPAC speech.

"We must stand united," Palin said near the close of her CPAC address. "Whoever our nominee is."

More popular Yahoo! News stories:

Choose your own conservative: CPAC puts candidates' differences on display: Character Sketch

Mitt Romney's CPAC speech: I kept Massachusetts 'from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage'

Mitt Romney wins CPAC straw poll

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.