Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has for the second year in a row, won the straw poll for potential presidential candidate of 2016 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which was held this year in Maryland. He won 31 percent of the vote and was ahead of his closest rival by twenty points. Sen Ted Cruz was the runner-up with 11 percent of the vote followed by Ben Carson a former neurosurgeon and popular conservative speaker with 9 percent. This poll was mostly symbolic because with just 2,500 candidates it was not indicative in a definitive sense of where the Republican party stands with respect to choosing a presidential candidate. However, this CPAC straw poll does measure to a certain degree how the most active and often vociferous members of the party are perceived suitable for the most important job at the oval office.
Following Ben Carson for fourth place was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 8 percent of the vote. With a tie for fifth place with 7 percent was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Some of the other bottom contenders include Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 3 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was tied with Sarah Palin for 2 percent of the vote. The big question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was whether after a consecutive and very convincing CPAC presidential poll win, does Rand Paul have what it takes to not only be the nominee in 2016 for the Republican party but also to win the national presidential election?
Many politicians in conservative circles speculate that as a libertarian and with his solid criticism on Obama Sen. Paul might be able to galvanize the youth vote in America. The last two national elections have witnessed this age group go to the Democrats and winning young voters will be an immense challenge for the Republican Party. Both Paul and Cruz are heroes of the Tea Party movement and in this respect they are the anti establishment wing of the GOP. In a separate poll, CPAC members were asked to rate how the GOP was performing in congress and an alarming 51 percent indicated that they were dissatisfied.
Perhaps this was another factor that helped both politicians to improve their poll positions from last year. Rand Paul has taken up many causes that have enhanced his position as a solid libertarian. His “Stand with Rand,” movement last year culminated with a 13 hour speech on the floor of the Senate where he strongly opposed the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes against extremists. Earlier this year he took on the president’s lack of oversight over the NSA and has challenged Obama in court. These positions have won Paul many supporters within the traditional GOP establishment as well as with Tea Party enthusiasts. He has successfully distanced himself from a conservative leadership which, going by many polls, must deal with unsatisfied voters. By making the case of for being a strict follower of the constitution, Rand Paul has attempted to raise his profile above that of Obama and his wins at the recent CPAC presidential polls indicate a strategy that may appeal to Americans who are outside of the traditional conservative vote bank.
By Unni K. Nair