Libertarian standard-bearer Rand Paul won Saturday’s straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an early, if unreliable, preview of the 2016 presidential race.
Sen. Paul, R-Ky., took 25 percent of the vote, edging out Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who got 23 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished third with 8 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was snubbed by conference organizers, came in fourth at 7 percent, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had 6 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had 5 percent.
The CPAC crowd is much younger than the Republican primary electorate; more than half of the 2,930 people who cast ballots were between the ages of 18 and 25, and two thirds were male. Paul’s libertarian politics appeal to that demographic.
Many attendees sported "Stand with Rand" stickers in support of his 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor objecting to President Barack Obama’s drone policy.
There were 23 names on the straw poll ballot, including two Republican governors who were not invited to attend - Christie and Bob McDonnell of Virginia.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the conference Friday but asked that his name be removed from consideration, citing the distance until the 2016 campaign will begin in earnest.
Straw polls taken years in advance of an election have a poor record of prediction. Ron Paul, Rand Paul’s father, won in 2010 and 2011, Mitt Romney won in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012. Only two CPAC straw poll winners have gone on to be president.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” Paul told CPAC. “I don't think we need to name any names, do we? Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom. The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in the economic and the personal sphere."