Rand Paul Wins Presidential Straw Poll at CPAC

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Sen. Rand Paul came out on top in the presidential straw poll at the CPAC conference outside Washington, D.C., Saturday.

More than a dozen potential Republican candidates for president auditioned at the conservative conference over the past few days.

The Kentucky Senator's overwhelming win in the poll is purely symbolic, but reflects his popularity among conservatives who typically hold great influence in the GOP's presidential selection process.

Paul captured 31 percent of the vote. He won the poll last year as well.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz finished second place with 11 percent, followed by neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

None of the Republicans in the poll have formally entered the 2016 race yet.

The CPAC event is kind of a political spring training to decide the battle strategy for coming elections for Congress in 2014 and the White House in 2016.

Conservatives clearly are upset at Republican leaders in Congress for giving up without a fight against Washington's debt ceiling hikes. But opposition to the Obama agenda is the super glue that holds the movement together.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who won a primary this weekend against a Tea Party challenger, told the crowd that the administration exhibits a dangerous lack of accountability.

"If the last five years have taught us anything about our liberal friends, it's that they don't 'get' accountability," Cornyn said.

Many conservatives are also appalled by the vacuum created by the Obama administration's U.S. foreign policy retreat.

"No one trusts us, no one listens to us, no one respects us and no one fears us," former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said of the American decline.

Sen. Paul was Friday's headliner at the conference where he accused President Barack Obama of running roughshod over Americans' civil liberties.

He urged conservatives to join his efforts to stop what he says are unconstitutional measures.

"Government unrestrained by law becomes nothing short of tyranny," he said.

On the domestic front, the speakers took aim at Obamacare and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of religious and political conservatives.

Huckabee called the IRS a "criminal enterprise" and said the country should put it out of existence by adopting a flat tax.

He also blasted the White House for its strong-arm tactics against Israel, America's closest Middle East ally.

"We need to change the policy that has made it so that we spend more time pressuring Israel to stop building bedrooms in the land that was given to them by Abraham than we put pressure on the Iranians to stop building bombs that are pointed at us," Huckabee said.

"That, my friends, is insanity. I know it and you know it as well," he said.

Conservatives are divided over how much to cut back the size of government and how to fight its growth. They're also divided over who should lead them: a red meat conservative such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or a proven winner in a deep blue state such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie received a warm reception Thursday, telling the gathering, "The reason we have to start talking about what we're for and not continuing to rail about what we're against is because of one simple reason: our ideas are better than their [the Democrats'] ideas, and that's what we have to stand up for."

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