Sen. Rand Paul convincingly wins CPAC presidential straw poll

Posted at 7:25 PM, Mar 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-09 18:00:28-04

(CNN) — Sen. Rand Paul easily won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, giving the potential White House candidate an early boost with the Republican base ahead of the 2016 election.

It was the second-straight year the Kentucky lawmaker topped the poll at the annual gathering, notching 31% support.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was second with 11%, followed by conservative firebrand Ben Carson.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, never popular with many in the party’s conservative base, was fourth with 8% support.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who for a time gave Mitt Romney a run for his money with conservative voters in the 2012 presidential race, rounded out the top six.

CPAC is the largest annual gathering of conservative leaders and activists and is a must-attend cattle call for GOP presidential hopefuls looking to pass the right-wing litmus test.

Polling indicates no real frontrunner among the potential GOP contenders so far. The next race for the White House officially doesn’t get under way until after November’s midterm election, and it’s fair to say presidential surveys this early are often heavily influenced by name recognition.

Paul said in a statement that he was grateful for the support, touching on his libertarian themes of individual rights and standing up for the Constitution.

“Thank you and onwards to victory,” he said.

Paul, whose libertarian fight in the Senate is often met with a tepid response, spoke before an audience Friday that treated him like a rock star.

The son of former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the first-term senator is eager to expand his base and expand the GOP in general.

He’s been aggressively trying to broaden the party by talking about the need to include not only libertarians, but even Democrats and minority voters that don’t traditionally fall in the GOP column.

But he wasn’t trying to hammer home that message on Friday. His remarks were mostly catered to firing up the conservative libertarian crowd.

Paul supporters could be seen at all corners of the conference this week, easily spotted by their “I Stand With Rand” stickers and signs.

CNN’s Conor Finnegan, Ashley Killough and Peter Hamby contributed to this report.