Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll: what does it mean?

Like his father former Rep. Ron Paul before him, Sen. Rand Paul won CPAC's presidential straw poll of conservative activists. But In the 40-year history of CPAC, only two straw poll winners have gone on to become president – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. Sen. Paul won the CPAC presidential straw poll with 25 percent of the votes. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., came in a close second with 23 percent.

Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican senator from Kentucky, won the presidential straw poll Saturday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Senator Paul’s victory, with 25 percent of the vote, was fueled by strong support from college students who came to CPAC by the busload. Paul was following in the footsteps of his father, retired Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, a three-time presidential candidate who rode the support of young, libertarian-oriented voters to CPAC straw poll victory in 2010 and 2011. Libertarians emphasize keeping the role of government in daily life as small as possible.

Coming in a close second was Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida with 23 percent. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania came in third with 8 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) came in fourth with 7 percent – noteworthy, because Governor Christie was not invited to speak at CPAC this year. Christie, the most popular Republican in the country, had worked closely with President Obama after hurricane Sandy right before last November’s election, probably hurting Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

In all, 23 names appeared on the ballot, a sign of how wide open the 2016 presidential race is. In the 40-year history of CPAC, only two straw poll winners have gone on to become president – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

It is fashionable to say that the unscientific CPAC straw poll is meaningless – especially more than three years before the next presidential election. But for Paul, Saturday’s victory adds another plum to what has already been a successful CPAC outing – the first since his father retired and passed the torch of the iconoclastic Paul brand to his son.

On the first day of the three-day conference, Paul gave a well-received speech to a packed ballroom; many people waved red and black signs that said “Stand with Rand.” He delivered probably the most memorable line of the whole three days: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” Paul said. “I don't think we need to name any names, do we?”

It was widely assumed he was referring to Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who attacked Paul and two other outspoken conservatives – calling them “wacko birds.” Paul gained considerable notice recently for his talking filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA over the issue of whether the US can use drones against Americans on American soil. Paul stood and talked nonstop for nearly 13 hours (thus the signs at CPAC).

On Friday, Senator McCain apologized for his comment. And the Rand Paul youth-driven juggernaut continues.

 “Rand Paul continues a lot of what his father is about,” says Andrew Olding, a junior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who came to CPAC on a bus organized by the Ohio College Republican Federation. “I was a fan even before the filibuster. I’m a libertarian at heart – I believe government exists to protect life, liberty, and property.”

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