Ben Carson won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Saturday, demonstrating his popularity among conservative activists at one of the party’s traditional presidential cattle call events.
Carson, a former surgeon who formally launched his underdog campaign this month with an appeal to the GOP’s tea party wing, finished first with 25 percent. He was followed by Scott Walker, who received 20 percent, and Ted Cruz at 16 percent. Chris Christie and Rick Perry tied at 5 percent, with Jeb Bush narrowly behind. Marco Rubio tied with Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul at 4 percent.
The straw poll victory doesn’t necessarily represent a breakthrough for Carson. Carson and Cruz, both middle-of-the-pack candidates in the early 2016 polls, mounted serious efforts to win the straw poll but most candidates did not compete. They hoped it would give them badly needed momentum as they compete against a sprawling field of better known and better funded rivals. Four years ago here, Mitt Romney notched a narrow, one-vote win over Ron Paul. …
[The SRLC] drew 2,000 or so activists from around the South, organizers said, with 958 casting votes in the straw poll. It also drew many of the 2016 Republican hopefuls, all of whom used 25-minute speeches at the downtown Cox Convention Center to throw out red meat to the conservatives gathered.
Rubio and Cruz, who were originally scheduled to make appearances, had to cancel as a result of the ongoing negotiations in Washington over renewal of the Patriot Act.