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Ron Paul wins CPAC poll. Does it matter?

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Alex Brandon/AP

(Read caption) Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. Paul won the CPAC presidential poll for the second year in a row. Mitt Romney came in second.

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Ron Paul’s winning the beauty contest at this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference doesn’t come as a big surprise. He won CPAC’s presidential straw poll last year, and it’s an activist gathering with a strong libertarian tea party tinge.

Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, took 30 percent of the vote with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney winning 23 percent – almost exactly where they placed last year.

Trailing far behind in single digits were Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee (neither of whom attended the conference), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Bringing up the rear were Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

The relative lack of enthusiasm was evident in other numbers. Just 3,742 people voted, fewer than half of the total registered to attend. Barely more than half the attendees said they’re "generally satisfied" with the list of likely candidates. A substantial 43 percent said they “wished the GOP had a better field of potential candidates.”

In general, it was a younger voting crowd. Fifty-one percent were 25 and under, and 72 percent were no older than 40. Men outnumbered women by more than two-to-one.

And these were definitely fiscal – as opposed to social – conservatives, i.e. in line with tea party goals. Reducing the size of the federal government and of government spending are far and away the main concerns of people polled at CPAC. “Traditional” marriage and values, abortion, and gun rights were way down the list.

While conservative activists and political junkies like to watch the CPAC gathering and note its straw poll, the event itself says little about who the GOP nominee will be a year and a half – several political lifetimes – from now.

Romney may do well in the actual selection process next year, but he has a very steep hurdle to cross among the party faithful, especially activists: He authored “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, which became the pattern for the much-criticized “Obamacare.”

Meanwhile, Ron Paul is beloved by libertarians and – to his credit, according to his many tea party followers – an outsider among mainstream elected Republicans and those who vote for them year after year.

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“The 75-year-old congressman may run for president again, but his prospects for winning the GOP nomination are nil,” write Jonathan Martin and James Hohmann at Politico.com. “Yet because he has an intense following among anti-war youths, and has supporters are willing to organize his effort, the libertarian-leaning Paul dominates the balloting and renders the survey as largely irrelevant.”

It will have been 12 years since the winner of the CPAC poll went on to win the GOP nomination: George W. Bush in 2000.


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