Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City on Saturday, beating out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzWarren builds her brand with 2020 down the road Trump wall faces skepticism on border No Congress members along Mexico border support funding Trump's wall MORE (R-Texas).
Carson won 25.4 percent of the vote, while Walker took 20.5 percent and Cruz received 16.4 percent.
Winning the straw poll could provide a boost to Carson’s long-shot candidacy.
“The fact of the matter is that I believe our founders set up a system that wasn’t supposed to cater to a political class,” Carson said at the conference. “It was supposed to cater to the people.”
“We’ve got to stop making everything into a political issue,” he added. “Our unity is through our strength.”
Carson is looking to solidify a position in televised debates, with Fox News and CNN announcing they will limit the stage to 10 top candidates in national polls.
Carson has finished in the top 10 of several recent polls, but he recently decried the debate rules for excluding candidates.
“I am very worried that out of broadcasting convenience our party is about to exclude voices from our debate programs that are critical to making our party bigger, better, and bolder,” he wrote in a letter released Friday. “The rules may be good for me personally, but they are not good for the process.”
While straw polls can provide a snapshot of the candidates' standing among grassroots activists, they are generally poor predictors of success on the campaign trail.
Ron Paul won the Leadership Conference straw poll in 2011, but finished fourth in the GOP presidential primary.
Eleven presidential contenders were scheduled to attend this year's conference, but Cruz and Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (Fla.) were unable to attend in person due to late votes in the Senate Friday.
The two senators recorded video addresses to the conference instead. Cruz won last year’s straw poll, narrowly defeating Carson.
The poll results were first reported by The National Journal.