By John McCormick and Annie Linskey
March 9 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, won the presidential preference straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It was the second such victory in as many years for the Kentucky Republican, and it will boost his standing as a leading voice in the limited-government movement and as a potential 2016 presidential contender.
Still, with actual voting in the presidential nomination still almost two years away, the results are more an indication of the fervor of some Paul supporters than any clear gauge of what’s shaping up to be one of the most wide-open Republican Party nomination races in the last five decades.
Voting in the straw poll took place during the three-day gathering at National Harbor, south of Washington along the Potomac River at Oxon Hill, Maryland. The results were announced yesterday as the conference neared its end.
Paul won 31 percent support, easily eclipsing the more than 20 other names listed on the ballot. In last year’s CPAC vote, he won 25 percent.
Finishing behind Paul were Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, with 11 percent; Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who is a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s health-care law, with 9 percent; and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with 8 percent.
Among others on the ballot, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania each got 7 percent, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was backed by 6 percent, and Texas Governor Rick Perry and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin each received 3 percent.
Past CPAC straw poll winners who have become Republican presidential nominees include Mitt Romney, who ran first in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012 and finally secured the party’s nod in that latter year, and George W. Bush in 2000, the year in which he was the clear frontrunner for the nomination and went on to win the White House.
Previous straw poll winners who failed in nomination bids include former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, businessman Steve Forbes, social conservative leader Gary Bauer, and former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, Rand Paul’s father and the first-place finisher in CPAC’s 2010 and 2011 contests.
A total of 2,459 votes were cast at this year’s gathering, with participants representing all 50 states, according to conference officials.
Rand Paul, 51, has bucked party orthodoxy while considering a possible White House run. He’s sought to build on the network of his father’s supporters while arguing that Republicans need to do more to reach out to blacks and other demographic groups that have traditionally shied away from the party.
He also has emerged as a leading critic of the National Security Agency spying program detailed last year in the leak of classified documents by Edward Snowden, who worked for a government contract firm before fleeing the country.
Paul, in his March 7 speech to a standing-room-only CPAC audience, said to cheers and loud applause: “If you have a cellphone, you are under surveillance. I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business.”