- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz won The Washington Times/CPAC presidential preference straw poll Saturday, giving him an extra boost as he tries to urge conservatives to rally behind him as GOP leaders search for a candidate who can stop Donald Trump’s march to the nomination.

Mr. Cruz won 39.5 percent of the vote at the Conservative Political Action Conference, easily outdistancing Sen. Marco Rubio, who won 30 percent support. Mr. Trump was third with 14.7 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich was fourth at 8 percent.

And Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s history-making chief executive, was the top pick for vice president, though Mr. Kasich and businesswoman Carly Fiorina were close behind.

Mr. Cruz, a first-term senator, won high marks from the thousands gathered in suburban Washington this week for his devotion to principles and his willingness to fight for them, even when it angers Republican Party leaders.

“He has the same values that I believe in, and he also stood up against his own party,” said Mark Kijewski, a Virginian who was attending CPAC and cast his vote for the Texas senator. “It takes a lot of guts when you are there face-to-face with somebody instead of going through a telephone or a paper, if you are writing an article against somebody. When you are there in person, going against somebody and not just somebody, somebodies — the whole establishment — boy, that takes a boatload of guts.”

More than 2,600 people voted in the straw poll, which takes the temperature of the conservatives who are opinion-leaders for the movement outside of Washington.

And Mr. Trump was the dominant figure at the gathering — even though he skipped it, canceling a Saturday morning speech to campaign instead in Kansas and Florida.

Winning less than 15 percent of the vote is a rebuke for the billionaire businessman, and it underscores just how uncomfortable both Republican Party leaders and high-level conservative activists are with Mr. Trump.

His decision to cancel his speech also didn’t sit well.

“I think that it just shows who he is. He’s a big baby,” said Kathleen Kenny, 40, from Bedford, Massachusetts. She voted in the straw poll for Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian favorite who dropped out of the presidential race last month.

Mr. Paul, who won the previous three CPAC straw polls, placed sixth this year, with 2.1 percent of people writing him in. He was also the fourth choice for best vice presidential pick.

About half of the voters in the straw poll were between ages 18 and 25 — a crowd that Mr. Trump has generally not done well with. In voting in the 15 states that have held primaries or caucuses, he’s done best with older, less-educated and less-wealthy voters.

CPAC attendees are also decidedly more conservative on social issues. Nearly 85 percent said they are pro-life, and nearly 62 percent said they are “strongly” pro-life.

More than 85 percent identified religion as important in their daily life — and that clearly benefitted Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Rubio’s CPAC supporters, meanwhile, said he is a better candidate to carry the GOP’s message into a general election matchup against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“To be honest, he’s able to beat Clinton, and I believe that he is a true conservative who believes in smaller government and a strong military,” said Kelly Schofield, 48, a high school teacher from Centreville, Virginia.

The complete presidential preference list ran:

• Ted Cruz — 39.5
• Marco Rubio — 30.0
• Donald Trump — 14.7
• John Kasich — 8.0
• Ben Carson — 2.3
• Rand Paul* — 2.1
• Gary Johnson* — 0.6
• Bernie Sanders — 0.5
• Michael Bloomberg — 0.5
• Hillary Clinton — 0.3
• Mitt Romney* — 0.3
Carly Fiorina* — 0.2
• Other — 0.5
• Undecided — 0.5

* Denotes names that didn’t appear on the ballot, but were written in by a significant number of voters.

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