Budget Smarts or Populist Message? CPACers Mull 2016

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. —­ Coming off a stinging November election defeat, Conservative Political Action Conference attendees came to Washington ready to support a young group of Republican candidates to run in 2016.

PJ Washington asked participants here on Saturday, before results of the straw poll were announced, which candidate they would like to see on the Republican ticket in the next presidential election. Opinion among conference-goers seemed to be split along different age groups.

Marc Jacobs, a sophomore at Temple University, voted for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) because of his views on small government, he said. But he added the straw poll vote is “not really” meaningful,” yet more “for fun.”

Though stakes are not exactly high this year, potential conservative front-runners vied for the legitimacy that the CPAC straw poll bestows on its winner. If not to test the waters for a potential primary run in 2016, the title does potentially bring grass-roots support and attention.

Michael Potaski, state committeeman for the Massachusetts Republic Party, voted for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “He makes a compelling case with his budget," he said. However, Potaski said he voted for Ryan at the straw poll in order to give him encouragement to stay steadfast in pushing fiscal reform, but he would "ultimately vote for Rubio."

"Ryan is too smart and wonky. Rubio is able to cast a message that resonates with a lot of people," he said. Potaski added he thinks Rubio can bring independents back to a GOP candidate.

“I’d like to see Paul Ryan run in 2016 because he’s very strong in economic and budgetary policy and he’s very clear about what he believes in and he’s not afraid to take an ideological stand. He’s a young conservative trying to rebuild the party,” said Evelyn Weistein, a college sophomore from New York.

“I think we have a lot of good candidates, but my top two are Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan in 2016. I think they relate more to my age group and the issues we find important,” said Kirsten Hatzinger of Wisconsin.

Ben Dorchester, a family physician from Pennsylvania, said he liked many of the younger Republicans but would choose Rubio because of the senator’s background.

“I’d like to see Marco Rubio win the straw poll. I personally voted for him because he’s a great politician that embodies many traditional conservative values and he’s not part of the Republican establishment,” Dorchester said.

Republicans are not the only ones on the ballot.

Keara Vickers, campus coordinator for Students for Liberty, is a registered Libertarian. Vickers said she was leaning toward casting her straw poll ballot for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Both Rubio and Paul spoke on Thursday to a crowd very responsive to the messages from both of the senators. Rubio maintained during his speech on Thursday that the party does not need any new ideas while Paul called for change, saying “the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered.”

Ryan, however, did not offer his opinion on the future direction of the GOP when he spoke at CPAC on Friday and he did not hint at a potential run in 2016.

Other participants would like to see new faces on the ballot. Barbara Marshall of Richmond, Va., thinks Dr. Ben Carson would be a good candidate.

Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, spoke Saturday morning and hinted at the possibility of running for office.

Paul won the poll with 25 percent of the vote, with Rubio coming in a close second at 23 percent.

Runners up were former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) with 8 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) with 7 percent, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at 6 percent, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) at 5 percent, pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with 4 percent each, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 3 percent each.