Carson wins early GOP straw poll
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Retired neurosurgeon Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump must pair more respectful rhetoric with positive policies Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks Reporter asks Trump 'Are you a racist?' after MLK event 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 CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall 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 PerryOvernight Energy: Regulators say Perry plan didn’t pass legal muster | Chamber to push for 25-cent gas tax hike | Energy expert sees US becoming 'undisputed leader' in oil, gas Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals Energy regulators: Perry’s coal plan wasn’t legally defensible 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 Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds 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.