One of the more hotly anticipated events of the annual CPAC conference is, of course, the Straw Poll. First conducted in 1976, the CPAC Straw Poll is a helpful measure of the pulse of the conservative movement, as attendees are encouraged to respond to questions covering a range of issues, such as their preferred policy priorities, their personal beliefs and how they feel about the job the president and Congress are doing. But the thing that basically everyone cares about is who the attendees want to be president.
Despite the fact that last year at this time presidential hopeful Mitt Romney felt the need to assure conference attendees that he was not just conservative, but "severely conservative," the former Massachusetts Governor has won the Straw Poll four times, more than any other candidate. This is, at the very least, a testament to Romney's ability to bus in supporters, but the same basically can be said of all straw polls, ever. Romney won three years in a row -- 2007 through 2009 -- before notching his fourth victory in 2012. In the intervening years, of course, Texas Congressman Ron Paul dominated the Straw Poll.
This year, Ron's son Rand is one of 23 other candidates vying for attention, and he may well pick up where his father left off, thanks to the Kentucky Senator's recent 13-hour filibuster on domestic drone policy. Rand Paul's wingman in his filibuster efforts, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is also on the ballot. Those two are the dominant figures among the "up-and-comers," which also include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Of course, the 2013 CPAC opens at a time when the GOP is still fully in a sort of "Crisis Interregnum," where scars from the 2012 presidential loss are still visible and internecine pressures -- between the activist base and the moneyed establishment, as well as between the future and the past -- are boiling under the surface. The Straw Poll ballot reflects all of these tensions.
For instance, there are a sizable number of people on the ballot who are simply there because they figured prominently in the presidential contests of the past. Rick Santorum and Perry made the cut, despite the fact that the former's "campaign on the cheap" game might never be replicated at the national level ever again, and the latter's "campaign on only intermittently being able to use the English language effectively" is probably something that few in attendance ever want to see again. Other presidential election also-rans on the ballot include Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Sarah Palin also makes the ballot, for reasons beyond imagination.
Naturally, the ballot is full with people who have signaled an interest in running for president in 2016 -- besides the aforementioned Rubio, attendees will get the chance to vote for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Two of the people who were famously left uninvited to the conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, are also in that "could go national" category -- attendees who are particularly aggrieved that these two governors were snubbed will have the chance to register their disapproval.
One notable name that's not going to be on the ballot, despite the fact that he's leaning in the general direction of seeking the White House, is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, most recently seen confusing everyone on where he stands, precisely, on the matter of comprehensive immigration reform. According to CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Bush -- who will address CPAC attendees on Friday -- requested that his name not appear on the ballot. According to a spokesman, Bush felt that it was "too early to think about 2016." Of course, "thinking about 2016" is precisely what many of the CPAC attendees will be doing.
Beyond that, there's a host of people who fall into the category of "conservative movement hero" or "on my fantasy list of vice presidential candidates." These include Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
The odd man out on the ballot is Ben Carson, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Carson has never held public office, but he became a hero to conservatives when, serving as the keynote speaker of the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, he criticized the Obama administration's policies while the president was seated behind him. If such an incident doesn't seem the likeliest springboard to a political campaign, think again: It was a similar encounter with President Clinton that turned pizza-chain mogul Herman Cain into a political brand.
Follow the liveblog for the latest updates from CPAC:
03/16/2013 5:31 PM EDT
Rand Paul Scores Straw Poll Win
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) came out on top of this year's CPAC straw poll. Click here to read more.
03/16/2013 4:54 PM EDT
Birther's 'Inappropriate' Questions Face Fire
From HuffPost's Paige Lavender:
Orly Taitz, commonly known as the "Birther Queen," was rebuked by blogger Pamela Geller during a Saturday panel on Islam and national security at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Click here to read more.
03/16/2013 4:53 PM EDT
Walker Goes 47%: Obama Wants 'Government Dependence'
HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the stage Saturday at CPAC, praising the assemblage for its support during the fraught Wisconsin recall fight, which Walker won, allowing him to stay in power. His speech was themed around the idea that the states are the laboratories of policy -- "Real reform does not happen in Washington, it happens in the statehouses throughout this country," he said -- and that he, in particular, was leading the way to end "government dependency."
If future GOP presidential runs depend on silver-tongues articulation of dorm-room "makers vs. takers" arguments, then Walker's future is pretty bright.
Click here to read more.
03/16/2013 1:51 PM EDT
PHOTO: CPAC Highlights, Sarah Palin Drinks 'Big Gulp' On Stage: 'Bloomberg's Not Around. Don't Worry'
(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
03/16/2013 1:37 PM EDT
PHOTO: CPAC Highlights, Rick Santorum Looks Like He Is About To Give Us A Knuckle-Sandwich
(Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
03/16/2013 1:34 PM EDT
CPAC Highlights: Steve King
@ elisefoley :
RT @EvanMcSan: Steve King calls them "undocumented Democrats" #Immigration #CPAC2013
03/16/2013 1:01 PM EDT
PHOTO: CPAC Highlights, Michele Bachmann: Conservatism Is "The Movement Of Love, The Movement Of Care."
(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
03/16/2013 12:57 PM EDT
Phyllis Schlafly Invited CPAC Audience To Follow Her On Twitter
@ achorowitz :
Phyllis Schlafly just asked if we would please follow her on Twitter. What.
03/16/2013 12:52 PM EDT
Schlafly On Immigration
@ Bencjacobs :
Phyllis Schafly says immigrants will all vote Democratic, I don't think Marco Rubio agrees #cpac
03/16/2013 12:51 PM EDT
Phyllis Schlafly On Amnesty
@ jmartpolitico :
Phyllis Schlafly: "comprehensive is a synonym for amnesty"