CPAC Winners and Losers

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The 2015 CPAC Straw Poll results were announced on Saturday. Nobody was too surprised by the winner.

Senator Rand Paul won for the third year in a row with 25.7 percent of the vote, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker surprised in second with 21.4 percent of the vote, Texas Senator Ted Cruz took third with 11.5 percent, Dr. Ben Carson took fourth with 11.4 percent, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush rounded out the top 5 with 8.3 percent.

It should be noted that the CPAC Straw Poll is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the Republican electorate. Of the 3,007 voters, nearly half were younger than 26. CPAC is known for having a libertarian bent to it, which was on display with poll results indicating a vast majority of voters supporting marijuana legalization and/or decriminalization. That bent won’t be nearly as dramatic in Iowa and New Hampshire.

That being said, there were certainly winners and losers last weekend.

Winners:

Scott Walker (2nd with 21.4 percent)

Governor Walker has had an impressive run over the past several weeks, and it continued with a strong showing at CPAC. Walker’s campaign had a light presence at the conference, with no apparent effort to whip votes for the Straw Poll, and despite that he finished in a close second place. That’s impressive, and his stock continues to remain high.

Rand Paul (1st with 25.7 percent)

Senator Paul won his third straight CPAC Straw Poll, which is certainly a noteworthy accomplishment. Paul had wide support throughout CPAC and received thunderous applause during his speech. There’s no doubt, given the younger lean of CPAC voters, that Paul was the odds on favorite to win headed into CPAC. But he needed that win to keep his momentum going, and he did it. That bodes well for his campaign going forward.

Ben Carson (4th with 11.4 percent)

Dr. Carson easily had the largest volunteer/staff presence at CPAC. I was told by one of his volunteers that they brought more than 200 voters to CPAC. In fact, the Carson campaign appeared to be the only campaign that bused a significant amount of people to the conference. While the Carson campaign was obviously looking for a win, they deserve kudos for organizing so well and being an influential presence at CPAC. They were just a few votes away from cracking the top three. Not bad for a guy with no electoral experience.

Losers:

Jeb Bush (5th with 8.3 percent)

The Bush campaign’s “Spin Machine” is already trying to make this lackluster result a positive for Governor Bush (per CNN: his finish was “a respectable showing indicating conservatives are open to the establishment pick,”) But really, it’s hard to see it that way. Bush definitely gets credit for campaigning in a hostile environment, where he was booed and heckled repeatedly, but it’s hard to imagine Bush appealing to conservatives at any point when he starts at such a disadvantage. He has a lot of work to do to improve his image–his reception at CPAC demonstrated his conservative problem on a national stage.

Chris Christie (10th with 2.8 percent)

Governor Christie had the opportunity to run in 2012 when his popularity was at an all-time high and conservatives were lauding him for his moxie and willingness to take on his opponents. That opportunity has passed–Chris Christie is not going to be President. Establishment Republicans have flocked to Jeb Bush, and grassroots conservatives have moved on to candidates more in line with them on Common Core and social issues. Christie would be wise to move on from running for President, earn his conservative support back, and hope for a cabinet position in 2017.

Bobby Jindal (12th with 0.9 percent)

Jindal’s weak showing in the CPAC Straw Poll is honestly puzzling. Jindal had a great couple weeks of press prior to CPAC, he’s been a leader in the movement against Common Core, and he had the right crowd for a good result. Despite that, he seemed to be an afterthought to the CPAC voters. Jindal still has work to do to become a top-tier candidate.

Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for American Principles in Action.