Conservative darling Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., picked up his third win in a row Saturday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, giving an early boost to his likely bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Politico reported. Paul garnered nearly 25.7 percent of the vote, topping Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 21.4 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 11.5 percent and Dr. Ben Carson's 11.4 percent. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush finished fifth with just 8 percent of the vote and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry garnered an abysmal 1.1 percent, coming in 11th, behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's 2.8 percent.
Paul is popular among segments of the GOP, especially libertarians, but a win at CPAC is far from a guarantee the presidential nomination is in the bag. Candidates can bring supporters to the conference and then purchase passes for them to boost poll numbers. Last year, Paul took 31 percent of the vote, and in 2013 he took 25 percent.
Bush supporters flocked to his question-and-answer session but an adviser told Politico the likely presidential hopeful, favored by the Republican establishment but unpopular with more conservative elements because of his immigration and education policies, would not make a major effort in the straw poll. The Hill, however, reported Bush bused hundreds of supporters in to show strength.
Bush tried to polish his right-wing credentials in an appearance Friday, criticizing President Obama for going "way beyond his constitutional powers." His remarks, however, were met with just mild applause and boos along with the cheers, the Boston Herald reported. He actually drew jeers when he defended his support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status where they work and they don’t receive government benefits,” Bush said.
This year's CPAC, under the leadership of American Conservative Union chief Matt Schlapp, was mellower than previous confabs, lacking on intra-party on-stage fights and low on heckling, Bloomberg reported. It also lacked some of the media gaffes that plagued earlier get-togethers.
The four-day meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, ended Saturday.