Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis edged out former President Donald Trump in a straw poll for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination at the Centennial Institute’s annual Western Conservative Summit over the weekend.
Mr. DeSantis secured 71% approval from summit attendees, with Mr. Trump closely following at 67% approval.
The poll was organized by the Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, a conservative think tank that has hosted its marquee Western Conservative Summit in Colorado since 2010.
Mr. DeSantis won last year’s straw poll at the Colorado summit, receiving 74% approval from attendees. Mr. Trump won 71% approval last year.
Neither Mr. DeSantis nor Mr. Trump has formally entered the 2024 presidential race, though Mr. Trump has continued to drop hints that he intends to run.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, came in third place this year with 29% approval from the audience. Ben Carson, former Trump administration housing and urban development secretary, followed with 24% approval.
Summit attendees voted using a ranked-choice method that allowed them to make more than one choice.
Attendees also ranked issues that they feel are most important. Education and parental rights ranked among the top concerns, at 77%. Energy independence and gun rights came in second and third in order of importance, at 75% and 74%, respectively.
Saturday’s poll capped the two-day event that featured a lineup of conservative speakers under the theme “Time to Saddle Up and Ride,” which organizers say is a push for “conservatives to boldly and courageously confront our nation’s challenges.”
“We are proud to be Americans,” Centennial Institute Director Jeff Hunt said. “We are proud of our country’s founding principles and we plan to lead our communities.
“We are Western conservatives, which means we don’t wait around for Washington, D.C., to solve our problems,” he said. “We solve our own problems.”
Organizers said 2,000 people registered to attend in person this year and people from all 50 states tuned in remotely.
Mr. Hunt said the nonpartisan summit does not endorse or oppose any candidate or political party.
Among this year’s speakers were Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert and Ken Buck of Colorado and Jim Banks of Indiana, who addressed attendees on Friday.
On Saturday, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii became the second Democrat to speak at the summit since its inception, conveying a message of unity above party politics.
“I want to talk to you about freedom, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” Ms. Gabbard told the crowd. “All of these words are words that are synonymous with America, what it means to be an American. These are not Democrat words or Republican words. These principles are ones that belong to all of us and they are the foundational bricks that our country was built upon.”
Ms. Gabbard said the country is at a time of crisis, decrying a divisive era in politics and culture and taking shots at the political leaders she said are intent on eroding foundational liberties enshrined in the First and Second Amendments.
“I served for eight years in Congress and came from there not too long ago and saw firsthand how too many Democrats and Republicans will talk a good game about freedom and civil liberties and claim to stand up for us and our rights, but really when it came time to vote, to protect our civil liberties and privacy they chose to stand with the power elite and against liberty,” she said. “If we stand on the sidelines during this time of crisis we will lose the country we love.”
Arkansas GOP gubernatorial nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders headlined the summit’s Saturday evening session.
Ms. Sanders, a former White House press secretary in the Trump administration and daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, secured the Republican nomination to replace term-limited GOP incumbent Gov. Asa Hutchinson in a decisive victory in late May.
In her keynote speech, Ms. Sanders echoed Ms. Gabbard’s call to action.
“Each of us have a role in making sure that the greatness of America is preserved is protected and that we have the ability to pass it on to the next generation,” she said. “We can and we must do better to save our great republic.”
“I hope that after two days of sitting here listening to great speakers and being inspired and energized,” she told the audience. “I hope that you don’t just leave here thinking that was great. That was fun. But that you’re reminded that you have a part to play.”