Paul clinches straw poll gold

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has won the Conservative Political Action Conference's straw poll for the second year in a row. 

Paul took 31 percent of the vote, a 20 point lead over second-place finisher Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The freshman senator got 11 percent, but saw a significant uptick from just 4 percent last year. 

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Conservative favorite Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who's amassed a grassroots following, was third with 9 percent. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), who addressed the crowd this year after not being invited in 2012, was fourth with 8 percent support. 

The biggest loser of the night was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Though he finished in second place last year with 23 percent, this year his support cratered and he finished in seventh place with just 6 percent support. The Florida senator saw his support among the conservative base erode following his support for comprehensive immigration reform. 

According to the American Conservative Union, CPAC's sponsor who conducts the straw poll, 2,459 people voted this year on a ballot that featured 26 prospective presidential contenders. The turnout is a slight increase from 2010, the last midterm cycle. 

Paul’s win was widely expected, as the CPAC crowd has traditionally skewed libertarian. In 2013, he took a quarter of the vote, and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) won the poll in 2010 and 2011. 

Indeed, the libertarian lean was on display during his speech to a standing room-only crowd on Friday, one of the best-received at the conference. And a pro-Paul group, Young Americans for Liberty, had an outsize presence at the conference.

The group’s executive director, Jeff Frazee, said it passed out 1,100 “Stand with Rand” t-shirts, 1,000 signs and 2,5000 stickers, and that 485 supporters signed up to attend CPAC through the group.

While the straw poll is considered a barometer of where the conservative base stands on the party’s leaders, its influence has waned in recent years as the libertarian presence at CPAC has grown.

Paul’s win last year was more notable as he had just begun his rise as a national political player and a credible presidential candidate, fresh off his now-famous filibuster to protest the administration’s drone use. Then, his first-place finish offered Paul some added legitimacy within the movement and increased media attention.  

But this year, Paul told The Hill on Friday that he doesn’t pay much attention to the straw poll.

“We’re not too focused on the straw poll,” he said, and joked: “We hope to finish in the top 10.”