Conservative Republicans may have been out in full force over the past three days at the eighth annual Conservative Political Action Conference’s (CPAC) presidential straw poll, yet at the end of the day the most moderate of the bunch won.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the straw poll with 38 percent of the vote, compared with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s 31 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed behind with 15 percent of the vote, while last year’s winner, Texas Representative Ron Paul, came in last place with only 12 percent of the vote.
More than 3,400 attendees participated in this year’s poll, which was held online this year for the first time to make it easier for attendees to cast their ballots, pollster Tony Fabrizio said. Fabrizio also conducted a telephone survey of 600 self-identified conservative voters earlier in the week to provide a baseline for the straw poll results, in which Romney and Santorum were statistically tied at 27 percent and 25 percent respectively.
Both studies also asked participants about President Obama’s job performance, their preferred tax reform plan and whom they would like to see as the Vice Presidential nominee.
Noticeably absent this year were the legions of Paulites the Texas Representative usually buses in to the conference. These supporters, many of whom are college-aged, helped Paul win the last two straw polls. However, Paul rejected an invitation to speak at CPAC this year in order to spend more time on the campaign trail. Instead, Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), spoke at the conference. Rand’s moving performance didn’t prove moving enough, though, and his father ultimately lost the straw poll.
The results came as welcome news to the Romney campaign, which needed a jolt of energy after Santorum’s unexpected trifecta win Tuesday night in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. Santorum had since soared in the polls, as a Public Policy Polling study released earlier Saturday showed the former Pennsylvania Senator up by 15 points over Romney nationally.
Romney also had the benefit of youth on his side at CPAC; more than 80 percent of those who voted were under the age of 55, whereas this demographic made up only 41 percent of voters in Fabrizio’s national study.
The biggest takeaway from the results, however, is despite the largely negative media coverage of Romney’s speech at the conference, the former Governor did leave a positive impression among attendees. Santorum was the heavy favorite leading into the conference, both with his victories Tuesday and by the conservative nature of the attendees. Santorum also seemed to give what was the more “heartfelt” of the two candidates’ speeches at the conference on Friday. By winning the straw poll Romney appears to have squashed any doubt that he can run as a conservative candidate this fall.