DENVER — Sen. Ted Cruz hasn’t said whether he has presidential ambitions, but Sunday he won one of the first straw polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The Texas Republican captured 45 percent of the 504 votes cast by attendees at the Western Conservative Summit, a day after drawing several standing ovations during his luncheon speech at the fourth annual conference.
“We shall see what sort of crystal ball summiteers have in awarding that decisive nod to Sen. Ted Cruz, who was so magnificent from this platform,” said John Andrews, founder of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, which hosted the event.
Placing second was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who delivered the keynote address Friday at the three-day summit, with 13 percent of the vote.
Tied for third were Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and former Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican, with 9 percent each. Mr. West was the conference’s featured speaker Sunday, while Mr. Paul received the most votes among those on the ballot who didn’t attend the conference.
Perhaps the most surprising finish was registered by Dr. Ben Carson, a conservative columnist and retired neurosurgeon, who wasn’t a conference speaker but logged 7 percent of the vote.
Asked Saturday whether he planned to run for the 2016 GOP nomination, Mr. Cruz said that’s not his focus, at least not now.
“At this point, 100 percent of my focus is on the U.S. Senate. And the reason is simple: The Senate’s the battlefield. The Senate is where these fights are being fought,” Mr. Cruz said. “So I’m devoting my time, No. 1, to trying to stand up for free-market principles and the Constitution.”
Mr. Cruz also told reporters that he believes there’s a “real possibility for Republicans to retake the Senate and retire Harry Reid as majority leader.”
Certainly his travel schedule resembles that of a candidate with national ambitions. Since he was sworn in to his first Senate term in January, Mr. Cruz said he has visited a dozen states while appearing at 45 events in Texas, “trying to do my best to make the argument, to make the case that freedom works.”
In his summit speech, he unveiled the launch of Don’t Fund It, a national campaign aimed at killing Obamacare by removing its funding from the Sept. 30 budget resolution. He also called for the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service, which he said would be possible by simplifying the tax code.
The summit typically attracts would-be Republican presidential candidates eager to win support from conservatives in swing-state Colorado. Among the themes at this year’s summit was how Republicans can reverse their recent losing streak in national elections.
“What Republicans did such a weepingly terrible job of in 2012 is we didn’t win the argument: that free-market policies are the greatest avenue for expanding opportunity, for helping those who are struggling to achieve the American dream,” Mr. Cruz said.
Other prominent Republicans seen as potentially strong presidential candidates didn’t fare as well in the straw poll. Bringing up the rear were Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsn, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
In 2011, little-known restaurant executive Herman Cain won the Denver summit’s first Republican presidential straw poll, “and it was an interesting forecast of a surprisingly strong run,” Mr. Andrews said.