The Conservative Political Action Conference drew to a close Saturday, and according to a poll of the convention, Rand Paul is in good shape if he decides to campaign for president in 2016.
The CPAC straw poll asked attendees who they'd choose for a potential GOP presidential nominee. The Kentucky senator won 31 percent of the vote, Texas Senator Ted Cruz came in second with 11 percent and conservative neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson reached a surprising third place with 9 percent.
Paul gave a much-lauded CPAC speech Friday night which focused on reigning in the National Security Agency. "I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business." (Via C-SPAN)
And Paul's supporters had a big presence on the convention floor, where National Journal noted "bright red-and-black 'Stand With Rand' gear easily overshadow[ed] the few dozen Ted Cruz stickers and Ben Carson buttons."
Paul also won the CPAC straw poll in 2013, and his father Ron Paul took first place in 2010 and 2011. A CNN reporter notes the outcome of the poll was hardly a surprise — 46 percent of the respondents were between 18-25.
"This is a conference dominated by young people, by libertarians. So it's no surprise that Rand Paul won in such blowout fashion."
But the poll is also seen as a leading indicator of conservative sentiment; the only non-Paul to win CPAC in the last five years, Mitt Romney, went on to become the Republican candidate for president in 2012.
Political reporters took note of the shifts in CPAC poll rankings. Slate's Dave Weigel notes 2016 hopeful Marco Rubio's numbers dropped by 17 points from last year's poll.
And Cruz's strong showing — up seven points — led The Daily Beast to dub Cruz "the Ivan Drago of CPAC ... like Ivan Drago, Cruz is in it 'to the end' ... or at least until 2016."
At Fox News, one analyst says the poll shows CPAC attendees clearly favored ideological purity over political savvy this year.
"They wanted to hear conservatives stand by their beliefs and be willing to fight for them. There's a debate within the Republican Party about whether that helps win elections, but it wasn't being debated amongst the conservatives among CPAC this year."
The CPAC straw poll also showed 41 percent of attendees favored legalizing recreational marijuana, and 78 percent disapproved of the NSA's metadata collection programs.