CPAC 2011 was a media goldmine, plain and simple. In fighting, boycotts, impassioned speeches, and an emerging two man race turned out to be just what the beltway press ordered.
Ron Paul, the libertarian and long-time menace to the GOP establishment, cruised to victory for the second year in a row. He received 30% of the vote. The GOProud, a gay Republican organization, probably helped him on his way to victory. They like Paul’s stance that social legislation other Republicans love so much is an infringement on personal liberty
And it probably doesn’t hurt that they scared homophobes like Jim DeMint and Mike Huckabee away.
Romney, the odds-on favorite for the 2012 GOP nomination, at this point at least, has a certain appeal to independent voters. He finished second with 23% of the vote, which really was the only respectable number (though the anti-establishment conservative vote was split quite a few ways) besides Paul’s.
The only problem with Romney is that his party seems to despise Obama’s healthcare plan, which just so happens to look like the cousin of the one he put through in Massachusetts. The Tea Party would not be happy if he were the nominee.
They don’t have to get too worked. CPAC hasn’t exactly been too accurate over the years. Reagan was always popular, and Bush won in 2000, but for the most part the straw poll isn’t a good predictor of nominees. The 2007 straw poll had John McCain with 12% of the vote, of 5th place.
It may be because only 6,300 people attended CPAC that year while more the 20 million voted in the Republican primaries. Also, CPAC attendees are different than the average Republican voter. College kids, Stony Brooks own College Republicans among them, are making up more and more of the convention. They also tend to be more involved than the average voter.
All that means that straw poll winners need to be a bit more socially liberal because of the young audience. And ideological candidates like Paul will have more appeal to an ideological audience. Who needs practicality or compromise when everyone in the room is just as far to the right as he is?
One interesting side note is the fall of Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. Palin dropped from 7% to 3% over the last year while Huckabee fell from 4% to 2%. It seems as though the stocks on neo-cons on FOX are down this year. Even Glenn Beck’s ratings have been on the decline.