There has been much controversy surrounding Rep. Ron Paul's straw poll victory in CPAC this past weekend. Many have asked how Paul, who many in the conservative movement reject, could have won a plurality of the CPAC straw poll, which has traditionally been a generally reliable gauge of mainstream conservative sentiment.
Originally, I was not going to address the issue. But following the results, a handful of Crist hacks used Ron Paul's straw poll victory at CPAC to downplay the significance of Rubio's 23 consecutive straw poll victories around Florida. Even worse, solid bedrock conservative friends of mine questioned CPAC's legitimacy over it.
So, as someone who was there to cast a vote and witness the results, I now feel a need to shed some light on why Ron Paul won, and what the reaction of those present was.
Over 10,000 people registered for, and attended CPAC. As the poll results show, 2,395 of those participated in the poll. Almost half (48%) of the straw poll participants were students, which is representative of the conference as a whole. The reason such a large percentage of CPAC attendees were students can be attributed to the low $25 registration fee. Registration fee for non-students was $150 (or $175 for late registration).
Regardless of registration status, over half (54%) of those who participated in the straw poll were college-aged (18-25).
With that said, Ron Paul garnered a plurality, although not a majority of the straw poll (31%), followed by Mitt Romney at 22%.
It is no secret that Ron Paul has an active, extensive, and very aggressive network of activists throughout college campuses. These activists descended upon CPAC and were actively campaigning for Ron Paul during the conference to influence the results of the straw poll. I witnessed it myself as I strolled through the corridors and halls of the venue. This, plain and simple, explains Ron Paul's straw poll victory.
In fact, I was in the bloggers lounge just outside the main hall when the results were announced. The loud boos from the overwhelming majority of attendees in the hall, as well as my fellow bloggers in the lounge snuffed out those cheering for Ron Paul when he was announced the winner. In contrast, when Mitt Romney was announced as second place winner, the cheers were deafening.
So, to say that CPAC was a gathering of Ron Paul supporters who most CPAC attendees consider out of the mainstream would be inaccurate. CPAC was attended by solid philosophical and movement conservatives, but unfortunately there was evidence of coordination to benefit Ron Paul in the straw poll. I did not see any other candidate or campaign do this.
As for you Cristonistas slobbering all over yourselves trying to use Ron Paul's straw poll win to discredit Marco Rubio's 23 straw poll victories, I would prefer that you continue lulling yourselves into a false sense of security, so stop reading here. You may leave the room now.
To everyone else I would like to point out that almost every straw poll Marco Rubio has won was conducted by county Republican executive committees throughout Florida. These committees consist of longtime members and activists of the Republican party, not some single-issue, hit-and-run participants. Not only do these people vote in primaries, but these are the activists that volunteer for campaigns and who friends and family members go to for advice on whom to vote for. Charlie Crist has not won A SINGLE STRAW POLL. He has lost every straw poll by landslide margins. In fact, he deservedly faced the ultimate indignity when he lost his home county's republican executive committee straw poll--the same group of people that endorsed him in 2006 during his primary race for governor.
It's nice to see some groups don't make the same mistake twice. Too bad the NRSC isn't one of them.