Rand Paul wins CPAC poll

The ballots are counted, and Gov. Bobby Jindal clinched only 2 percent of the vote in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual straw poll for the Republican presidential nomination.

Following in the footsteps of his father, a CPAC favorite, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul won with 31 percent of the vote. Paul, of Kentucky, not only won for a second year in a row but improved on his numbers by jumping from 25 percent last year.

The poll’s nearly 2,500 participants also weighed in on marijuana, with 41 percent saying it should be legalized for medical as well as recreational use.

“This is a sampling of people from all 50 states who are at the forefront, the forefront, of the conservative movement. … This is representative of what you, the front line, think,” Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster and strategist, said as he unveiled the poll results at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, finished second, but it was a distant second, with 11 percent. Rounding out the top five were retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, tumbled to seventh place, after finishing second in the poll last year. Jindal also slid in popularity despite delivering a fiery speech about President Barack Obama being the worst president of his lifetime.

Last year, Jindal got 3 percent of the vote, finishing eighth along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. This year, Jindal once again tied with Palin, this time at the 2 percent mark along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The good news for Jindal is that the poll sometimes is a poor predictor of who actually garners the GOP presidential nomination. The bad news is that fellow political darlings like Rand Paul and Cruz could be eclipsing him in the battle to represent the next generation of the Republican Party.

Jindal flies to New Hampshire this week, ostensibly for a breakfast and a political event. New Hampshire also happens to have the first presidential primary. The governor has been busy focusing on America Next, his Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. He launched the organization to offer conservative solutions to national issues.

Before going to New Hampshire, Jindal had to step onto the stage at CPAC, where speaker after speaker made a pitch to the conservative audience. Internet feeds offered a window into the event for those who couldn’t make the trek to Maryland.

Jindal used his 15 minutes at CPAC this year to criticize Obama, a common theme of his remarks in recent weeks. The governor described Obama as the worst president of his 40-something lifetime.

“We have long said this president is a smart man. It may be time to revisit that assumption — or at least to make distinction between being book smart and truly wise,” the governor said.

By the time the straw poll results were announced Saturday, Jindal had already left the Washington, D.C., area. He opens the legislative session Monday in Baton Rouge.

“It’s important, but it’s not necessarily indicative. … It’s important as a marker of where the conservative wing of the Republican party is at this point,” Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist, said of the CPAC poll’s impact.

Even with the presidential race two years away, CPAC is huge, especially with Republicans on a mission to reclaim the White House. The conference was a veritable parade of presidential hopefuls. The American Conservative Union, which describes itself as the oldest and largest grass-roots conservative organization in the nation, hosts the event.

The three-day CPAC conference closed out with the straw poll, which this year asked voters to choose among 25 names for the Republican presidential nomination. Emails went out early Saturday, reminding participants to vote.

“To ensure that your vote is counted, you must vote in the next fifteen minutes,” the email said. Voting could be done at laptop computer stations or through a CPAC app.

The results of the straw poll are widely anticipated even though they don’t always foreshadow the actual nominee.

Ronald Reagan won the straw poll in 1976, when he vied against then-President Gerald Ford for the GOP presidential nomination. Ford ultimately bested Reagan and then lost the White House race to Jimmy Carter.

Ron Paul was conservatives’ choice in 2010 and 2011. His son Rand Paul won the straw poll last year.

This year’s CPAC speakers included Tea Party Patriots founder Jenny Beth Martin; Cruz; U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin; Rubio; Donald Trump; U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, of Utah; Christie; and Palin.

Last year, CPAC didn’t extend an invitation to Christie. This year, Christie did get an invite, coinciding with his efforts to preserve his political career amid allegations his administration shut down lanes on a major bridge out of vengeance.

“We got to start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against. … Our ideas are better than their ideas,” Christie told the CPAC crowd, generating applause and cheers.

Then he characterized governors as the ones who get things done, listing several examples. He didn’t mention Jindal, choosing to laud Florida Gov. Rick Scott for keeping the unemployment level below the national average — an accomplishment Jindal often touts as evidence of prosperity in Louisiana.

LSU political science professor Kirby Goidel said the presentation is more important than the straw poll results. He said the conference offers visibility.

“It’s a way to try some dress rehearsal lines,” Goidel said.