Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland Friday. For the third year in a row, Sen. Paul won the CPAC presidential straw poll.

Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll again, but Scott Walker comes on very strong

Rand Paul won a presidential straw poll of conservative activists for the third year in a row. But the bigger news may be Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s strong showing and Jeb Bush’s mediocre result.

For the third year in a row, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky has won The Washington Times/CPAC presidential preference straw poll taken at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. His young libertarian legions made that possible again, as they did for Sen. Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul.

More interesting – and likely more significant for the run-up to the 2016 presidential race – is how well Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s relatively mediocre showing.

Gov. Walker surged from sixth place in 2014 to second place this year, tripling his portion of the 3,007 votes spread among 17 candidates to 21.4 percent, not far behind Paul’s 25.7 percent. The margin between the two was even closer (less than one percentage point) when first and second choices were tallied.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, was back in fifth place, behind physician Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz as well as Paul and Walker.

When seen in light of this Crowdpac spectrum of a dozen potential GOP candidates, the results could have been predictable – especially given CPAC’s gathering of activists from the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.

“Least conservative” here is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with Bush judged to be only slightly more conservative. “Most conservative” is Paul, with Cruz, Walker, and Carson not far behind. (Crowdpac is a political technology start-up that bases its rankings on an individual’s voting record, campaign donations, and communications, including speeches and social media.)

Still, Bush – who met with boos over his positions on immigration reform and the Common Core educations standards – can claim to have met expectations at CPAC without any major gaffes.

Falling away behind Bush in the straw poll were former Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Marco Rubio. Gov. Christie won just under 3 percent of the vote and former Texas governor Rick Perry took barely more than 1 percent.

What would any election be without charges of vote manipulation – serious or not?

The Pauls – Ron and son Rand – have done well in recent years by encouraging their libertarian followers to show up and of course vote. Nearly half those voting this year were ages 18-25.

This year, Jeb Bush was accused of busing in supporters – both to cheer his presentation and to vote for him in the straw poll.

From Bush’s right, blogger Matthew Boyle makes this charge, citing reports in the New York Times and Slate, then quotes the (anonymous) grumbling of operatives from other campaigns.

“It comes as no surprise that the Bushies would try to rig the CPAC straw poll. Jeb, like his father and brother, is strongly disliked and distrusted by the Base,” one said.

“This shows one thing: Jeb Bush’s base is D.C. insiders and lobbyists,” an operative for another potential GOP presidential rival said. “He has to bus them everywhere he goes. They are his only hope, that they can buy him this election every step of the way. True conservatives need to stand up and fight back.”

By definition and tradition, CPAC is the voice of the political right, the place where presidential hopefuls come to establish their bona fides, the place where Mitt Romney felt the need in 2012 to describe himself as having been the “severely conservative” governor of liberal Massachusetts.

Most attendees are activists on the political right, and CPAC is a place to bond and cheer before going off to do political battle with the left … perhaps, more to the point, with moderate, mainstream Republicans willing to compromise with Democrats in order to get beyond gridlock and try to make government function – even if that means following the advice of the late, great California lawmaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh: “Sometimes you have to rise above principle.”

Red-meat speeches are part of the program, none more so this year than radio talk show Mark Levin’s.

Congressional Republicans, he said, “have no principles, no strategy and no guts.”

"It's time for a new Republican Party,” Mr. Levin said. "No more excuses. No more whining. No more lying to get you elected. No more crony deals with the U.S. Chamber of crony capitalism.”

Don't mistake winning the CPAC straw poll as the first step toward winning the GOP's presidential nomination, the National Journal reminds us. “In CPAC's 41-year history, only three poll winners on record have gone on to become Republican presidential nominees: Ronald Reagan (who won twice), George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney.”

Among others who have won CPAC’s straw poll: Gary Bauer, Rudy Giuliani and Steve Forbes.

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