Carson wins early GOP straw poll
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Retired neurosurgeon Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonPrice resignation sets off frenzy of speculation over replacement We are all to blame for the Las Vegas shooting India's IBM conquest is an ominous sign for American industry MORE 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE (R-Texas).

Carson won 25.4 percent of the vote, while Walker took 20.5 percent and Cruz received 16.4 percent.

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Other GOP presidential hopefuls and potential candidates finished far behind the top trio. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finished a distant fourth with 5.3 percent of the vote, former Texas Gov. Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry seeking to prop up nuclear, coal plants Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog probes Zinke's charter jet use Energy Department backs .7B in loans for Georgia nuclear plant MORE took 5 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush won 4.9 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 Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers 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.