For the second year in a row, Ron Paul has taken CPAC's presidential straw poll. Is this a statement on the state of the conservative movement? Does this mean anything for Representative Paul?
Probably not. CPAC is a gigantic gathering of conservatives and libertarians that takes place every year. It attracts the most dedicated, but has in recent years been struggling to find its identity. Its economic conservatives and libertarians want it to go one direction and social conservatives prefer it would go another.
Poll results went as follows:
Texas Rep. Ron Paul: 30 percent
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: 23 percent
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson: 6 percent
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 6 percent
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: 5 percent
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: 4 percent
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann: 4 percent
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: 4 percent
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: 3 percent
Former talk show host Herman Cain: 2 percent
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 2 percent
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: 2 percent
South Dakota Sen. John Thune: 2 percent
U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman: 1 percent
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: 1 percent
Others: 5 percent
This list of names is definitely not exhaustive of those who can, or might contend for the presidency in 2012. Governors Jindal, Perry, and Perdue of Louisiana, Texas, and Georgia could still emerge. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is also stronger than his 1% might indicate.
Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are both heads of different organizations that send their supporters to CPAC, so they naturally will vote for their patrons and heroes. However, Romney is persona non gratis to much of the conservative movement for his support of government health care. Ron Paul's ideas on economics and domestic policy have gained favor. Most conservatives would not argue that the Federal Reserve needs greater oversight. Support for the gold standard has also picked up recently. However, his rigid stance on foreign intervention keeps him on the outside for a conservative movement that cherishes the liberator of Grenada. His son, recently elected in Kentucky, has emerged as a much more moderate voice on this subject. Eventually Rand Paul could make a much better libertarian Republican presidential hopeful after some seasoning.
In the next election, a Southern governor will probably step up and break from the pack. Perdue might be held back by the fact that Georgia's economy is currently much less than peachy. Jindal, however, has stood up to Obama. Rick Perry is perceived as soft on immigration, but has battled the EPA and the Department of Education. The economy of his Texas has outperformed most states. Economics and states' rights should be at the forefront in 2012, helping active and successful governors to potentially launch strong challenges for the nomination. Sarah Palin remains in any discussion, but the governors who stayed at the helm will always have an advantage over her.
In essence, CPAC's poll represents the different factions that are diehard enough to travel to Washington and spend money to have a great time and socialize with other up and coming conservatives. However, it is not accurate to see them as a true bellcow for the movement.