The Conservative Political Action Committee’s (CPAC) annual conference each year gives the nation’s top political conservatives a high-profile platform from which to strut their stuff.
But the ones held in midterm election years (two years following the last presidential election year and two years before the next one) are particularly critical, as they are barometers for analyzing the forthcoming field of Republican presidential nominees.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who won the Straw Poll for the second year in a row – his father, Ron, who retired from the House of Representatives (R-TX) two years earlier had won it the previous two years – said he was asking the audience “not to elect Republicans, but to elect lovers of liberty.”
The libertarian-minded Paul – though more mainstream than his father, who called for an immediate dismantling of the Federal Reserve Bank and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from everywhere in the world – won with 31% of the vote, easily beating second place Texas Senator Ted Cruz – a Republican, like everyone else in the running – who finished with 11%.
Third place (9%) went to a non-politician: neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who gained favor over the past two years by railing against Obamacare. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose presidential aspirations remain uncertain given the yet undetermined Bridgegate denouement, finished with 8% but received a standing ovation during his speech to the crowd.
The rest of the field: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (each with 7%), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (6%), Texas Governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (each with 3%), and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (each with 2%).
Of the entire field, Santorum and Perry had run for president in 2012, and Ryan was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee that year. Huckabee ran for president in 2008, and Palin was the Republican VP nominee that year.
The CPAC Poll is not necessarily an indicator of promising presidential prospects, as the results have been mixed: Ron Paul’s presidential bids fell fall short of pleasing the GOP establishment, though he had a cult following, particularly among young voters, as does his son.
Mitt Romney, who with four wins has won the poll more than any other candidate, lost the presidential primary in 2008 and the general election in 2012. George W. Bush won the poll in 2000 and was elected president that year. Ronald Reagan, who won the poll three times, won two landslide victories as president and is widely revered as the father of the modern-day conservative movement in American politics.