Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky easily won an informal vote of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an illustration of his strong support among party activists, particularly young conservatives.
Paul won 31 percent of votes from the 2459 conservatives who participated in the straw poll at CPAC, which was held in suburban Maryland. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won 11 percent, heart surgeon Ben Carson was third with 9 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (8 percent), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (7), former senator Rick Santorum (7) and Sen. Marco Rubio (6).
CPAC officials said 25 candidates were on the ballot, and numerous others received a small number of votes.
Paul’s victory, his second in a row, was unsurprising. About half of the people who attended this year’s CPAC, as in the past, were between ages 18 and 25. Paul’s father Ron was always popular among young conservatives at CPAC, who tend to be more libertarian than the broader Republican Party, and Rand Paul espouses an anti-big government message that is similar to his father’s.
The most interesting news might be the rise of Cruz and Carson, who both earned just 4 percent of the CPAC vote last year, tying for 7th place. CPAC attendees crowded into the main ballroom during their speeches, and activists here handed out “Carson for President” buttons, looking to draft him into the race even though the renowned heart surgeon has never held an elective office.
And their success may be coming at the expense of Rubio, who finished in second with 23 percent of the vote last year at CPAC, but has fallen out of favor with conservative activists after he spent last year pushing for an immigration bill that is along the lines of what President Obama has proposed.
But Rubio can take comfort in one fact: the winner of the CPAC straw poll is rarely the eventual Republican presidential nominee. A group of 2500 conservatives, almost half of whom are under age 25, is not representative of the broader Republican Party, which has many older and more moderate voters who do not traditionally attend the conference.