Rand Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, a victory that cements his status as a tea-party favorite.
Conservative leaders say Paul’s victory is a sign of his popularity within Republican ranks. “I’m glad someone who says bold things is rising,” says Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute. “At a time when many conservatives are reflecting on the future, his views are connecting.”
Boyden Gray, a former counselor to President George H. W. Bush, agrees. He says Paul may not be cheered in every corner of the party, but he’s a formidable figure. “Even within the GOP, people are beginning to question big institutions, from big government to big banks, and Rand Paul is speaking to them,” he says.
Paul’s supporters were not the only activists pushing a candidate at the Gaylord National Hotel in suburban Maryland. Supporters of Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and supporters of New Jersey governor Chris Christie also had informal get-out-the-vote operations.
But Paul’s group was, by far, the most vocal, and its efforts paid off. According to a CPAC official, Paul was expected to win, and he drew heavy, consistent support.
Other Republicans on the ballot included Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Bobby Jindal, and Governor Scott Walker. Rubio, for his part, came in a close second. Paul won 25 percent, and Rubio won 23 percent.
Many Paul supporters see the CPAC straw-poll win as a first step toward the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Paul recently told National Review that he is open to the idea but remains undecided about his future plans.
Paul’s win was broken by the Washington Times, which organized the poll.