BAYHAM: The 2014 CPAC Straw Poll

The big story that generally comes out of the annual conservative conclave held at National Harbor, Maryland (NOT Washington, DC) is the straw poll. The results are interesting not so much by who wins (that’s usually bought and paid for by a presidential aspirant who buys CPAC registrations by the bushel) but how individuals who don’t invest substantial funds in the survey or even speak at the event do in the poll.

The winner this year was no surprise, Kentucky US Senator Rand Paul.

Paul, who garnered 31% and led the second place finisher by 20 points, had won in last year’s poll. His father Ron Paul had triumphed in the 2010 and 2011 CPAC straw polls. The big takeaway from the libertarian scion’s CPAC win isn’t so much that he’s the leading GOP presidential candidate (he’s not as there isn’t at this time an obvious frontrunner) but that he is almost certain to make a bid for the White House in 2016.

Rand Paul campaign meetings were held across the street at a nearby hotel and his political action committee RandPac had a booth at the conference, distributing lapel stickers and rally signs featuring his mop-head silhouette and the words “Stand With Rand”. Only someone making a run for the presidency would bother going through this trouble for a “straw poll.”

Trailing a distant second was Texas US Senator Ted Cruz. Another TEA Party favorite, Cruz had taken some severe blows in the press for his dogged opposition to ObamaCare via his filibuster and might have been undermined by his “too cute by half” reading of Dr. Seuss in the US Senate well. Though Cruz has been the primary target for vilification by the “drive by media”, Cruz still has a significant following amongst conservatives. It should be noted that in contrast to Paul, Cruz really didn’t work CPAC aggressively and addressed the conference at 9 AM on Thursday before many of the attendees had arrived.

Running an impressive third with 9% was someone who worked it, or rather had an independent committee espousing his presidential candidacy work the event for him, was Dr. Ben Carson. The plainspoken neurosurgeon and author has developed a strong following since delivering stirring remarks at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. Beyond what his advocates did on his behalf, Carson participated in a number of meet and greets on the final day of CPAC. Many people saw his introduction of his wife on stage prior to his speech as a sign that the doctor will be in the 2016 presidential contest. A non-politician with a compelling backstory, backed up by energized supporters, Dr. Carson is right now the most intriguing of potential candidates.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie was well-received by the audience at the conservative gathering and did respectably well in the CPAC straw poll. Tainted by the New Jersey Bridge scandal and a favorite punching bag for conservative commentators, Christie’s 8%/fourth place finish shows that he has support on the right when considering how many other politicians with better conservative credentials fared far worse than Christie in the poll.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is facing re-election this November, has made no moves towards a White House run and did not appear at CPAC yet came in fifth place in the straw poll with 7%. The nemesis of the public sector unions has room to grow and a loyal constituency. More later.

Former US Senator Rick Santorum came in 6th place at CPAC, which has to come as a disappointment when considering the presence he and his organization Patriot Voices had at the conference. The upside though is that Santorum ran five points ahead of another individual closely identified with social conservatism, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, indicating that evangelicals prefer Santorum. This could be important come Iowa if Huckabee takes another stab at it.

US Senator Marco Rubio received 23% and was nosed out by Rand Paul by a mere 2 points in last year’s CPAC straw poll. In 2014, Rubio came in 7th place with 6%. Rubio’s role in the clumsy immigration reform push and the perception that he is unlikely to be a presidential candidate in 2016 can be attributed to the collapse.

Though nobody had a worse collapse than Mitt Romney’s running mate. Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan scored a paltry 3%. Another high-profile Republican tethered to immigration reform legislation that many on the right view as a legislative boon for big business and the Democratic Party (cheap labor and free votes), Ryan’s diminishing stature is a boost for the other guy from the Badger State with presidential ambitions (and mercifully, I am not talking about Reince Priebus).

Imagine having to put the Hindenburg back together from the pieces scattered about the field in Lakehurst, NJ. That’s about as good of an analogy I can think of for Texas governor Rick Perry’s manic hopes of reassembling his once impressive White House bid. Despite giving an impassioned address on Thursday morning, Perry’s 9th place finish with 3% before a favorable audience shows that a Perry 2016 campaign is going to look like. Oh the humanity.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee delivered a folksy address at CPAC with heavy religious references and scored 2%. Huck might want to focus on paying down the mortgage on his Florida manse than investing in an exploratory bid.

Condi Rice didn’t speak and isn’t running and still got 2%. Good for her.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal did speak and is running and only got 2%. Not so good.

Alaska governor Sarah Palin can hint all she wants that a presidential campaign might just be around the corner (along with perhaps another book), but nobody is buying…at least her as a candidate. The Mama Grizzly is better at getting crowd reactions than support in presidential survey, clocked at 2% in 2014.

John Kasich, Rob Portman, Donald Trump, John Thune, Allen West and Mitch Daniels all got 1% in the straw poll. So did Indiana governor Mike Pence. And yet one conservative writer broadcast that the untold story of CPAC was the enthusiasm for the former conservative congressman. If such enthusiasm did exist, it would have registered in the straw poll. The only enthusiasm I saw was for Paul, Cruz, Walker and Carson.

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